All of us must have fond memories of visiting the Central Zoo whether we are in the country or outside.
Just like any other business, zoos across the world have been facing difficult times since lockdowns or similar kinds of restrictions have been imposed in many countries to control the transmission of COVID-19 infection.
Central Zoo, the only zoo in the country, extends in the six hectares of land in Lalitpur district. The zoo which is home to almost 993 animals including 113 species of birds, mammals, pisces and reptiles depends on the money earned from visitors' fees.
Since the government imposed the nationwide lockdown unexpectedly and suddenly in March last year to curb the transmission of coronavirus infection, the zoo hardly got any time to prepare to tackle the lockdown.
“We were not prepared for the lockdown at all. But we are not the only ones affected by the COVID pandemic, all the zoos across the globe have been facing a difficult time due to the pandemic. Our biggest concern was to take care of the animals we have kept here. Before the nationwide lockdown was imposed, our organisation was a self-sufficient one and had not taken any donation from other organisations or the people,” Lina Chalise, Conservation Education and Information Officer at the Central Zoo, explains.
"During the lockdown, we could not fend for ourselves," Chalise says, and adds that that is when they came up with the idea of people adopting an animal with the slogan — ‘Share the care’.
Under the adoption programme, one can adopt an animal and take full responsibility for supplying it with a full diet and a year of medication.
Chalise asserts, “We came up with the idea of adopting an animal so that we did not actually have to ask for donations from people. Moreover, this gives people a feeling of ownership not only of the zoo but also the animals. However, in the beginning, there was a lot of confusion about adopting an animal as people believed they could take the animal home and keep it with them.”
There were many always willing to help out but not all could afford to pay a high price to take care of an animal, information officer Chalise says.
“We have had many locals telling us that they wanted to help out but the price lists were too dearer for them. So, recently, we have prepared a list putting lower prices affordable for the general public, and a corporate list for big companies who can afford to look after big animals like rhino, and elephants,” adds Chalise.
The annual expense of the zoo to take care of the animals, and for maintenance has been estimated at Rs 40 million. When there was no income during the lockdown, all the maintenance works had to be halted.
Chalise says, “Apart from bringing a halt to the maintenance works, we were compelled to cut 50 per cent of the salary of 75 staff. Meanwhile, we have only 56 staff after the lockdown.”
Likewise, Raj Kumar Basnet, who has been working as a zoo curator for 32 years says, “I have been working here for a long time but during the lockdown, I had to stay home for a long time. I enjoy looking after the animals, however, I hate it when visitors complain that we do not feed them. I tell you, the caretakers have to give each and every detail to the authorities daily.”
The zoo had faced a lot of financial problems due to lack of visitors during the lockdown. But now, keeping in mind the health protocols, they allow only 500 visitors a day. More than 1,000 visitors use to flock to the zoo every day before lockdown.
Chalise says, “We are more than thankful for the number of visitors we have been getting at present despite the situation. We appeal to all of our visitors to keep on wearing masks and use sanitiser. This is to inform all that our staff have already been vaccinated. Though it is a hard time for all of us, we feel lucky to be able to keep the zoo open right now.”