Animal parks are a dime a dozen in India but a new-fangled nocturnal zoo has turned out to be a big draw with visitors making a night of it in the man-made jungle in the marvelous menagerie.
Located in Mughal-built Ahmedabad, the country’s first world heritage city in the western Indian state of Gujarat, the 9,000-square-metre zoological garden bordering a vast, polygonal lake has two thrilling caves with some 20 gigantic glass enclosures housing scores of wild, night-prowling animals, rodents and birds.
The 2,000-odd men, women and children who throng the zoo every day are struck with wonder as they enter the spacious, dim-lit tunnels with ceilings resembling a night sky full of twinkling stars and a shape-changing moon simulated by a high-tech, first-of-its-kind, self-programmed lighting system not found in other exhibition galleries.
And with real cries of the inhabitants in the microphone-fitted cages designed as landscaped natural habitats, as also recorded roars, growls, squeaks, screeches, hoots and laughs constantly emanating from camouflaged speakers, the sightseers get the feeling that they are passing through a dark forest in the dead of night even during daytime.
With the lighting system reversing the wake-sleep cycle of the dumb denizens, the day-trippers’ joy doubles when they watch up-close the regular nightly routine of the wide-awake nocturnal animals otherwise found dozing or out of action and just cooling their heels in normal zoos.
One can keep looking at the majestic, leopard loitering behind unbreakable soundproof glass windows, the ferocious but near-threatened hyena or a crackerjack jackal with curved canine teeth used for hunting birds and mammals.
Holidayers are also astounded by the sight of porcupines with 30,000 black-and-white killer quills, hedgehogs rolling into a tight ball with spines pointing outwards, palm civets boasting a long, stocky body covered with gray, shaggy hair and solitude-loving jungle cats having sandy, reddish-brown fur without spots.
But hold your horses: The night zoo also has large-eyed fruit bats who are also called flying foxes, black-crowned night herons known for their croaking, crow-like calls, flying squirrels with a furry, parachute-like membrane stretching from wrist to ankle and, of course, owls having a heart-shaped face and uttering an eerie, drawn-out shriek.
“Thanks to the special three-layered glass of the enclosures, the animals cannot see outside and remain undisturbed by visitors’ movements and noise,” said volunteer Manoj Patni, adding that every cage has a lot of bushes, tree houses, hillocks, etc. as found in the natural surroundings of the nocturnal fauna.
Indeed, all the walls and other barriers are made of non-combustible and durable rammed earth and not cement what with only natural raw materials like earth, chalk, lime, gravel, clay, stones and sand being used for construction to provide a natural feel and look to the nocturnal zoo, part of the main 31-hectare lakeside Kankaria Zoo, one of the largest and oldest in India.
The Rs 190-million leafy, environment-friendly park that can give other similar zoos abroad a run for their money has a power-saving geothermal temperature control system for natural ventilation with the result that the air blast from pipes keeps the caves 10 degrees Centigrade cooler than outdoors.
Also, a decentralized wastewater treatment system minimizes dependence on government water supply for regularly landscaping the tastefully-designed nocturnal house, brainchild of Dr R K Sahu, the visionary director of Kankaria Zoo.
“The fact that the weight of the leopard and other animals has gone up and babies have been born to fruit bats and flying squirrels proves that the inhabitants are in fine feather and always on the ball,” says Dr Sahu, a passionate animal lover who has been beavering away at his challenging job for the past 29 years, turning the white-elephant Kankaria Zoo into a milch cow for the local municipal corporation with the popular nocturnal zoo alone fetching Rs 2.5 million a month.
Dr Sharva Shah, expert veterinary doctor at the nocturnal zoo, told Al Arabiya English that even during dog days of summer, the animals are as merry as cricket and never fall sick because of undisturbed life, natural surroundings and proper food as well as water despite a change in their bio-rhythm.
As the visitors walk out of the caves with a smile, a ‘selfie-point’ with colorful replicas of wild animals, specially created for fun-loving youngsters, adds to their pleasure and makes their day.