Review sent by Anthony Heron, May 2009
This, my first visit to Bahawalpur Zoo, took place in late February, 2007. My first impression on passing through the gate was one of a spacious, flat terrain interspaced with lawns and pathways. I decided to turn right and proceed anticlockwise around the zoo. As things turned out, this was probably the best route to take. The first exhibit I came to was a rather gloomy old-fashioned cat house housing a pair of domestic cats, jackals, some Indian wolves (Canis lupus pallipes) and an Indian civet cat, Verricula indica. Next, on the left, was an aviary containing peacocks. The next enclosure on my right was a large open-air one containing crocodiles and a large expanse of water green with algae. Things were about to improve, however. There was a large modern bar less enclosure for grey wolves (subspecies not indicated) which was well-designed and the wolves themselves appeared in good condition. Nearby was a similar but larger enclosure housing African lions, one elderly male and an elderly and two young females. There was a large empty aviary nearby as well as an enclosure containing a tigress and her cubs, similar to those of the lions and wolves. My companions then informed me that something was happening over at the lion enclosure, so we doubled back to where, to the delight of the crowd that had gathered, the keeper was chasing the male and three females lions around their enclosure. A unique photo opportunity! I then resumed my tour and went to a dry moated enclosure for Tibetan black bears. Having failed to get them to stand up and beg for some small fruit picked from a nearby tree, a keeper then told us to follow him in the direction of the lions. He started adjusting fittings on several doors and all kinds of thoughts went through my head. Did he want me to chase the lions round their enclosure with my camera? There was an old-fashioned lion house to the rear and after further adjustments of doors the keeper let himself into a cage containing a lion and three lionesses smaller in size that those in the outside enclosure. Two small openings led to an inner den and the keeper began to chase the lions in and out of there. Rather him than me!
Continuing my tour I came to another moated enclosure housing some striped hyenas, much larger specimens than those I had seen in zoos in the Middle East, and some very tall, well-maintained large sheds which I was told were formerly elephant stables. Nearby were enclosures for tortoises, rhesus macaques, ducks and common guinea fowl, as well as red-necked wallabies in what appeared to have been built as a medium-sized aviary. I next came across an antiquated museum containing stuffed animals, including, reputedly the last lion to be shot in the Punjab, postage stamps and a curious collection of small pictures of famous people throughout the ages which had apparently all been removed from different books. A large pond nearby was home to pelicans, cranes and geese.
The next area of the Zoo I came to was an area devoted to large paddocks for blackbuck,
hog deer, nilgai, European red deer, chinkara and European mouflon. I subsequently came to the last part of my tour where there were somewhat smaller but still quite spacious paddocks for zebra, llamas and ostriches. Nearby was a structure with two flights of steps which I recognized must have been used in the past for elephant rides. In conclusion, I found Bahawalpur Zoo to be spacious and include some very good exhibits. I am not sure about the advisability of keepers chasing lions round their enclosures, but at least it is one way for the lions to get some exercise, and on this occasion at least, nobody came to any harm.
OTHER ANIMAL COLLECTIONS NEAR BAHWALPUR:
BAHWALPUR LION SAFARI
After visiting Bahawalpur Zoo it was decided that I should visit a Lion Safari and a nearby somewhat vaguely described collection of ‘other animals’ about 35 kilometres away in an area that is a National Park. The distance covered was somewhat more than 35 kilometres when we turned off the main road and crossed a bridge over a wide canal.
A sign pointing to the right stated ‘Lion Safari 16km’. It was a very pleasant drive along the bank of the wide tree-lined canal, very reminiscent of France, except the trees were eucalyptus, not cypress or poplars. A few kilometres down the road was a sign pointing to a ‘Blackbuck Enclosure’ - something to check out on the way back. Arriving at the Lion Safari, together with several other tourists, some of them in small buses, we found it to be closed. It was at this point that one of my companions remembered that all the lions had died, allegedly of some disease carried by flies.
BAHWALPUR BLACKBUCK ENCLOSURE
Arriving at the Bahawalpur blackbuck enclosure I was greeted by two signs. One informed me that the ‘enclosure’ had been financed by WWF USA and WWF the Netherlands. The other sign was rather like the blackboard-type score boards used for village cricket matches. It bore the day’s date and the number of animals in the enclosure on that date. These were:
Blackbuck: males 167, females 204, fawns 66, total: 437
Chinkara: males 9, females 5, total 14
Nilgai: males 1, females 7, total 8.
The gates to the enclosure were closed and we were at first told that the enclosure was not open to the public on that day. A few words (including a reference that I ‘had come from England’) were exchanged with an employee who went to talk to his superiors. He soon returned to let us in It transpired that a number of blackbuck were being darted for release into the wild. Food has been distributed for them near an observation area and I and my party had the rare privilege of sitting and drinking tea with the park authorities while a leisurely process of darting some specimens took place. It was also a rare opportunity for me to discuss zoo and wildlife issues with Pakistani experts. The enclosure was vast and well administered as far as I was able to judge. The blackbuck – all founding stock of which in Pakistan had originally come from Texas, I was informed -
did not appear in any way stressed and I was delighted to observe the process of reintroduction into the wild actually taking place.
LAL SUHANRA CHILDREN’S PARK
My next stop on my visit to animal collections near Bahwalpur was the Lal Suhanra children’s park. At first it didn’t seem very promising – the usual collection of parrots, pheasants, various kinds of peafowl, black partridge, geese and rhesus monkeys. But then I came to a vast rectangular moated enclosure, obviously built at considerable expense which appeared at first to be empty. I was a little incredulous when I saw a sign pointing to ‘rhino’ but, sure enough rounding the far corner I saw something I had never expected – a young Great Indian rhinoceros. There were, in fact, two in the enclosure, one remaining in its centre where it was barely visible, the pair a gift from HM the King of Nepal. So, the Park was well worth a visit, if for the rhinos alone. This being the fourth visit to animal collections (one closed) on one day, my companions were physically beginning to flag, so there might have been one or two smaller exhibits in the park that I failed to see.