While it is ideal to see animals in their natural homes – jungles, or national parks and forest reserves, doing this may not always be possible. Taking holidays from schools is the biggest problem. So sometimes we have to be happy seeing the animals in zoos only. There are many zoos I have seen in my life, but so far I think I find Chhatbir Zoo – on the border of Punjab and Haryana to be the best. Chhatbir Zoo (earlier known as Mahendra Chaudhary Zoological Park), is a zoo situated close to Zirakpur, on the border of Haryana and Punjab. The zoo was built in the 1970s (work is always on to make it better) and is home to a large variety of birds, mammals and reptiles.
The zoo was inaugurated on 13 April 1977 by the then governor of Punjab Mahendra Mohan Choudhry, and it was named Mahendra Chaudhury Zoological Park after him. The zoo is 17 km from the city of Chandigarh and 55 km from Patiala. Chhatbir Zoo is one of the biggest zoos in north India and is spread over 202 acres. While the Delhi Zoo is in the middle of the city – and the noises and pollution in the city can disturb the animals, the Chhatbir Zoo is away from the city and in the middle of vast fields and forests of greenery.
It is very nice to see how waste scrubland has been changed and beautified into a nice home for wild animals. The animals are kept in open enclosures – and even if they are caged, the cages are really huge – so that they can be made to feel that they are in their own natural habitat.
The main attraction of the Chhatbir zoo Chandigarh is the Asiatic Lion, and there is a special way in which you can see the two lions and three lionesses. Visitors are taken in a caged motor vehicle to the lions’ refuge. While travelling inside the lions’ ‘zone’, the visitors can enjoy close-ups of this magnificent animal. So you feel like you are on display for the lion and not he that is showing himself for you – after all, YOU are in the caged van!! I like watching the Asiatic lion also but most of the time it is sunbathing, sleeping or is sitting with a dull face – as if it is bored.
The Chhatbir zoo has about 950 animals and birds belonging to about 85 species housed in about 100 enclosures (animal houses). Most of the zoo animals are either from other zoos or are born here. Some of the animals that you can see here are white tiger, Asiatic elephant, hippopotamus, sambar deer, swamp deer, emu, baboon, lion-tailed macaque, Himalayan Black bear, zebra, Bison (or Indian Gaur), jackals, wild foxes, blackbucks, porcupine, gharial, civets, a host of snakes and reptiles and several species of birds. There are about 14 leopards in Chhatbir Zoo and I would like to tell you something interesting. At least half of these leopards have been captured/ rescued after they strayed into the residential areas of Panchkula and Chandigarh! Yes, it is true! See Panchkula and Chandigarh are surrounded by various forests and hills – such as Morni, Naya Gaon, etc and that is where these poor animals stray into the city from. The ones that are captured are brought to the zoo, cared for by vets and then released into the forests by naturalists after some days.
In addition to this, there are various species of birds, including peacocks, cranes, geese, ducks, parrots, sparrows, nocturnal owls and bats; and various sub-species of deer, cat and monkey.
I just love watching the royal Bengal tiger and the white tiger because of its beauty. It is amazing to see them play in their puddle pools. I’ve seen the whole zoo over a period of at least two visits – because the zoo itself is huge. When you go there, please do wear sports shoes or comfortable walking shoes so you don’t get tired like I did because I was wearing floaters. I’m planning to go there soon over the next weekend.
Visiting days/timings: The Chandigarh zoo is open six days a week. It is closed on Monday.
Zoo Hours: 9.00 AM to 5.00 PM
Zoo Holidays: 15th August, 2nd October and 26th January
Refreshment Options: Restaurant, Canteen, Ice Cream Parlour
HOW CAN THE CHHATBIR ZOO BE MADE BETTER?
Many times when I visit the zoo, I see many empty enclosures (clean and dirty). I think the clean ones are for some new animals. But what about the dirty ones? Many people use them as a garbage dump. Animals cannot live in garbage. The zookeepers should clean up those enclosures and build a small place for children who get bored seeing the zoo or get tired can stay there and learn about animals, there should be signs and notice boards so people can learn how to manage things if you are too close to an omnivore or a carnivore.
Also, all food items inside the zoo must be absolutely banned. Even buying products from the zoo canteen. People buy packets of biscuits or chips and just throw them everywhere. The canteen should be at a separate place and the guards should fine people who litter the zoo.
Text by Angadveer Singh
Images by Aarti Kapur Singh