At a time when we have got used to reports of animals suffering and dying in zoos, a wildlife enclosure in a sleepy village of Dakshina Kannada saw the birth of two tiger cubs and four leopard cubs this week.
With this, the number of tigers at the zoo in the coastal town of Moodushedde in Mangalore taluk has gone up to 10, starting with just two in 2004. What's more, the zoo has taken care to avoid inbreeding to ensure the offspring are genetically fit. “It is quite satisfying that the zoo could achieve so many tiger births in the last eight years. We have also achieved a high rate of breeding among leopards, blackbucks, various types of reptiles, including rare sand boas, the Indian cobra, vipers and kraits, prompting the Central Zoo Authority to recognize Pilikula as the conservation and breeding centre for king cobras,” the director of the centre, Jayaprakash Bhandary, told DNA.
When the former deputy commissioner of Dakshina Kannada district, Bharatlal Meena, first floated the idea of having a wildlife enclosure on the coast in a small village, politicians had made fun of him and some skeptics even chided him for suggesting such a 'foolhardy’ idea.
But Meena carried on with his plan and today his brainchild, the Pilikula Nisarga Dhama and Dr Shivarama Karanth biological park have turned into fine centres for wildlife conservation and one of the main centres in South India to breed all sorts of animals in captivity.
One of the reasons for the success of tiger breeding at the Pilikula zoo in Moodushedde (Mangalore taluk) is its closeness to a natural tiger habitat in the Western Ghats. The word Pilikula is derived from pili, which means tiger, and kula, which is a pond. The Pilikula zoo was built in the same place where tigers used to quench their thirst in the past. There was a natural forest already existing when the facility was built in 2001, but the Pilikula Nisarga Dhama Society later made the forest denser and provided a water body, an elevated place and other natural habitat features for the tiger enclosure.
The tiger population of ten in Pilikula, with the birth of two cubs this week, is in fact now beyond its ‘manageable’ capacity and so the authorities are launching an adoption drive. Efforts are also on for an exchange with other animals from various zoological parks in the country. The breeding of other animals, especially leopards and snakes, has also had a good success rate at the zoo.
The chairman of the Zoo Authority of Karnataka (ZAK), M Nanjundaswamy, commended the officials of the Pilikula Nisarga Dhama Society, which is out of the purview of the zoo authority and therefore has to generate most of its own funding. "I had visited the zoo some time back and it is one of the best-managed zoos in the state if not in the country, considering the fund constraints,” Mr Nanjundaswamy told DNA.
“Yes we do have financial constraints as the entire show is mostly run by the gate collections, with some money coming from adoptions and donors and adoptions. We are now taking up another adoption drive for bigger animals from corporate bodies,” said Bhandary.
The state government recently chipped in with Rs38 lakh for construction of a walk-in aviary which will be bigger than the one in Karanjikere in Mysore.
Many of the animals in the Pilikula zoo have come here after being rescued, including leopards, cobras, barking deer, mouse deer and many types of squirrels and birds. A hippo which was rescued from a circus in Hyderabad was expected to join soon.
This is a very different scenario from the one in Mysore zoo where scores of animals are reported to have died this year, including a tiger and an anaconda recently. Perhaps it's better to locate zoos in forest areas, rather than an urban setting.