If you happen to visit the city of Junagadh in Saurashtra, and it is really well worth seeing, do not miss taking a stroll around the city’s Sakkarbaug Zoo, one of the oldest zoological gardens in India.
It is justifiably famous for its lions and tigers, which are housed in reasonably spacious cages. The zoo also helps conserve the wild Asian Tigers in the nearby Forest of Gir national park.
Just after viewing the big cats in their barred enclosures, I turned around and had a shock. I saw what looked like a real tiger lazing on the grass outside the cages. I could not believe my eyes for a few seconds until I realised that this ‘creature’ was actually a realistic life-sized toy tiger, which people used for including in their photographs and ‘selfies’.
Elsewhere in the zoo, there is a model of a dinosaur, but this is not nearly so realistic.
Incidentally, the zoo, which is a little way outside the historic city centre is opposite a great value, comfortable hotel, The Hotel Magnum Inn.
I was very keen to visit the Kamla Nehru Zoo in Ahmedabad. I had read much about it in a fascinating book, The Book of Esther, by the Ahmedabad author Esther David. She was born into a Beni Israel Jewish family. Her father Reuben David, a self taught veterinarian and keen naturalist, established the zoo on the shore of Lake Kankaria in 1951. The lake is man made and dates from the mid 15th century.
You can explore the zoo on foot or, for a modest fee, you can be driven around it in an electric vehicle. The driver stops wherever you wish and also helpfully draws your attention to cages and enclosures containing interesting creatures. Some of the cages look quite old and a little cramped, but the enclosures are quite spacious.
The reptile house contains a series of generously large enclosures housing snakes, both venomous and not.
Recently, a new part of the zoo has been built a little way around the lake, separated from the original establishment. The new part is called ‘Nocturnal Zoo’. Barely lit corridors connect poorly illuminated cages. Once your eyes have adapted to the darkness, you can view animals who are usually most active at night. Some of these animals seemed to enjoy sleeping in the artificial night. Others, including various bats and beautiful owls and some jackals, were fully awake. The Nocturnal Zoo is well designed and, I hope, would have met with the approval of the very creative Reuben David.
To date, I have visited two zoos in Gujarat: Junagadh and Vadodara. I have yet to visit a third, that in Ahmedabad.
The zoo in Junagadh is laid out over a large area of ground. Large animals and those which like to run around are in spacious enclosures. The zoo is pleasant to visit. It has wide paths, many of them with trees to provide shade.
Currently (January 2019), the zoo in the Sayajibaug Gardens in Vadodara is somewhat of a building site. This zoo is undergoing major rebuilding. The zoo is divided into three areas: birds, hippos and big cats, tigers and bears. There are also ponds containing crocodiles and alligators. The highlight of our visit to this zoo was seeing a new born hippopotamus with its mother.
The cages at the zoo in Vadodara are mainly very old fashioned. Hence, the building works whose aim is to create modern enclosures and a veterinary hospital.
I know that these days not everyone approve of keeping animals in zoos, but both zoos described above are well worth visiting.
The Sakkarbaug (meaning ‘sugar garden’) Zoological Garden in Junagadh was opened in 1863. The second oldest zoo in India, it was founded by the Nawab Mohammad Mahabat Khanji II. Admission charges are low. The zoo covers a large area (198 hectares). The animal enclosures are spacious. Wide, sensibly laid-out paths ensure that visitors do not miss anything, and there are many shady trees.
Here are a few pictures that Adam Yamey, author of “Travels in Gujarat, Daman, and Diu”(available on Amazon and Bookdepository.com), took when he visited in early 2018: