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His­tory

In 1952 the Indian Board for Wildlife felt the national cap­i­tal needed a zoo­log­i­cal park to pro­vide recre­ation for soci­ety at large. There­fore an ad-​hoc com­mit­tee was estab­lished of sev­eral high-​ranking nature lovers of Delhi, includ­ing Smt. Indira Gandhi, to draft a pro­posal. In Sep­tem­ber 1953 a deci­sion was made on the new zoo’s loca­tion, the site between Purana Quila and Humayun’s Tomb, which is the cur­rent loca­tion still. Fur­ther­more, it was decided that the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment would develop the site into a zoo­log­i­cal park after which it would be handed it over as a work­ing enter­prise to the For­est Depart­ment of the Delhi Government.

The Indian Board for Wildlife felt that a good zoo should be founded on mod­ern prin­ci­ples with open, moated enclo­sures and nat­u­ral­is­tic dis­plays to serve as an exam­ple to other zoos.

The first plan for the devel­op­ment of such a zoo was drafted by Major Wein­mann, Direc­tor of the Cey­lon Zoo­log­i­cal Gar­den – now the National Zoo­log­i­cal Gar­dens of Sri Lanka. As Wein­mann was not avail­able for the long term, Carl-​Heinrich Hagen­beck, owner of Hagen­beck Zoo at Ham­burg, Ger­many, was asked to take things for­ward. He was the grand­son of the world-​famous founder of Hagen­beck Zoo, who was the first to intro­duce the idea of open moated bar-​less enclo­sures. So the grand­son was def­i­nitely suited for the job to meet the require­ments of the Indian Board for Wildlife.

The pre­lim­i­nary plan was ready by March 1956 and pro­vided a gen­eral lay­out of water­ways, roads and paths, ani­mal enclo­sures and sewage sys­tem. After some adjust­ment to meet the local con­di­tions and topog­ra­phy of the ground the Gov­ern­ment of India approved the plan on 31st Decem­ber 1956. Hon­our­ing his grand­fa­ther Carl Hagen­beck, grand­son Carl-​Heinrich Hagen­beck designed from scratch a zoo like Hagen­beck Zoo in Ham­burg with large open moated enclo­sures, only four times larger (100 ha), and the largest of India. For instance, the tiger enclo­sure was an exact copy of the tiger enclo­sure in Ham­burg zoo, just bigger.

By the end of 1959, con­struc­tion had suf­fi­ciently advanced. The North­ern part of the zoo was ready to wel­come ani­mals as well as visitors.The grounds con­sisted of roads, water­ways, moats, ponds, lawns, plan­ta­tion and most impor­tantly ani­mal enclo­sure­sand ani­mal houses. Ani­mals that had been arriv­ing as gifts from State Gov­ern­ment and indi­vid­u­als since the announce­ment of the estab­lish­ment of a zoo­log­i­cal park at Delhi, could finally be moved from the tem­po­rary pens to their per­ma­nent enclo­sures. The col­lec­tion com­prisedtigers, leop­ards, bears, foxes, mon­keys, deer, ante­lope and many bird species.

The park was opened on 1 Novem­ber 1959 as the Delhi Zoo­log­i­cal Park. In 1982 it was offi­cially renamed to National Zoo­log­i­cal Park which reflected more cor­rectly the pur­pose of this insti­tu­tion — a Zoo man­aged and financed by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment to pro­vide a model for other zoos in the country.

The first years after the inau­gu­ra­tion Delhi Zoo ful­filled its duty as a ‘model’ zoo for the entire coun­try. It was well known for its inspir­ing Hagen­beck style design and ani­mal col­lec­tion which was grouped accord­ing the then-​popular con­cept of con­ti­nen­tal areas. In addi­tion the Zoo­log­i­cal Park was well known for its breed­ing suc­cesses of white tiger, lion-​tailed macaque, and Manipur brow-​antlered deer or sangai.

Unfor­tu­nately, due to bureau­cratic delays and obstruc­tive pro­ce­dures the National Zoo­log­i­cal Park dete­ri­o­rated rapidly. Over the years, the gov­ern­ment agen­cies that had to man­age the Zoo had to deal with many more pub­lic issues. Most of these issues were of greater pub­lic impor­tance than tak­ing care of the Zoo. Espe­cially, run­ning the Zoo as a pub­lic enter­prise com­pli­cates things. For instance the Delhi Pub­lic Works Depart­ment is the only agency that is per­mit­ted to do main­te­nance, and the zoo is a very low pri­or­ity for the Department.

Delhi Zoo-masterplanA pos­si­ble solu­tion to stop fur­ther dete­ri­o­ra­tion could be pri­vati­sa­tion. The Cen­tral Zoo Author­ity (CZA) has already made an attempt to achieve this for the National Zoo­log­i­cal Park. If such a pri­vati­sa­tion can be suc­cess­ful and will lead to a trans­for­ma­tion that will make the National Zoo to be man­age­able and pros­per again, other munic­i­pal and state-​run zoos might fol­low the exam­ple. In 2001 a mas­ter plan was devel­oped to make the National Zoo a world class zoo that is up to stan­dard. The plan was pre­pared under the guid­ance of the CZA and will pro­vide more space and a nat­ural habi­tat for the ani­mals. The plan’s full imple­men­ta­tion was envis­aged for around 2006.

Unfor­tu­nately the endeav­ours to become a world class zoo didn’t prove very suc­cess­ful, as the Zoo made the head­lines, because of a series of zoo ani­mal deaths in 2015 and 2016, such as hog deer, lion-​tailed macaque, lan­gur, giraffe and cape buf­falo. More­over, the zoo offi­cials have been accused of under-​reporting the num­ber of deaths among the ani­mal col­lec­tion and pre­sent­ing fal­si­fied post­mortem reports to the CZA. This raised ques­tions regard­ing the main­te­nance, man­age­ment and atti­tude of the zoo officials.

But what­ever may hap­pen in the (near) future, the National Zoo has played a major role in mod­ern Indian zoo his­tory. At the National Zoo­log­i­cal Park, birds and ani­mals still live in an envi­ron­ment that in many ways resem­ble their nat­ural habi­tat. The National Zoo­log­i­cal Park not only pro­vides a home for endan­gered species, but also helps them to breed in captivity.

Not unlike many other zoos in the world Delhi Zoo has suf­fered the occa­sional out­break of an infec­tious dis­ease. An out­break of avian influenza in autumn 2016 even led to a com­plete shut­down from mid Octo­ber 2016 until Jan­u­ary 2017. This dras­tic mea­sure was taken by the Delhi gov­ern­ment to tackle the prob­lem effec­tively, but partly due to the bar­rage of crit­i­cism over how it han­dled the dengue and chikun­gunya fever out­breaks among the City pop­u­la­tion dur­ing the monsoons.

Since its onset the Zoo is located on Mathura road next to the famous old fort Purana Qila. Remains of one of the walls of this old fort, built in the 16th cen­tury, are vis­i­ble while walk­ing along the north­ern edge of the Zoo grounds. Not far from the entrance you can also find a 17th cen­tury mile­stone, a Kos Minar built by Jehangir.



(Sources: Zoo and Aquar­ium His­tory by Ver­non N. Kisling, jr.; Zoo: A His­tory of Zoo­log­i­cal Gar­dens in the West by Eric Baratay and Elis­a­beth Hardouin-​Fugier; web­site National Zoo­log­i­cal Park Delhi; Wikipedia; The Times of India)

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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about zoos and their mis­sion regard­ing breed­ing endan­gered species, nature con­ser­va­tion, bio­di­ver­sity and edu­ca­tion, which of course relates to the evo­lu­tion of species.
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