Country’s lone zoo struggles to sustain with no visitors for months amid the pandemicFor years, the zoo has survived on entry fees paid by the public, but now the facility is looking up to the government for support to feed animals and pay staff.
Chandan Kumar Mandal
Until the third week of March, it was just another regular day at the Central Zoo in Jawalakhel, Lalitpur. People queued for tickets—on Saturdays and public holidays, the number of visitors would simply double—to visit the country’s only formal zoo which hosts over 125 species—around 1,000 individual mammals, birds and reptiles among others.
And then came Covid-19. On March 18, the government barred gatherings of more than 25 at one place. On March 24, the country went into lockdown.
Since then, the zoo, which used to welcome around 3,000 to 4,000 visitors daily, has seen zero visitors.
“The zoo has remained closed for around six months now,” said Chiranjibi Prasad Pokharel, chief at the Central Zoo.
With no visitors—a Nepali visitor has to pay from Rs50 to Rs150 for one-time entry—the zoo is now struggling. For an adult foreigner, the ticket rate stands at Rs750.
“We are definitely facing challenges, as our main source of income, the fees that visitors pay, has completely dried up,” said Pokharel.
The Central Zoo, established as a private zoo in 1932 by Rana prime minister Juddha Shumsher, later came into the ownership of Nepal government with the political changes of the 1950s. Since 1995, the management responsibility of Nepal’s Central Zoo has been shifted to the National Trust for Nature Conservation for the next 30 years. The zoo is currently spread over six hectares of land.
Over the years it has evolved as a self-sustained undertaking.
With the number of visitors roughly standing at around one million annually, the zoo used to earn around Rs150 million.
According to zoo officials, the money was spent on feeding animals, paying staff salaries and maintenance works.
With not many places for outings in the capital city, the zoo is one of the major attractions. Apart from viewing caged animals, people also visited the facility for recreational purposes like boat rides and picnics.
The monthly expenditure of the zoo stands somewhere between Rs10 million and Rs15 million.
According to Pokharel, for the zoo, it is just a break-even situation—it spends as much as it earns—and the facility does not have any extra savings.
“With no income from ticket sales, it has not been easy keeping the animals alive while paying for the 75 staffers,” said Pokharel. “There is no other source of income for the zoo.”
With no solution in sight in the near future, zoo authorities have reached out to the government, seeking financial support.
It is awaiting response.
According to Hem Sagar Baral, a wildlife expert and Nepal head for Zoological Society of London, the government should immediately come forward to help the country’s only zoo cope with the crisis.
“For an adverse time like this, the government has to step up to protect the animals and staffers affected by the pandemic. Zoo authorities have been doing a fantastic job for the management of the zoo,” Baral told the Post. “Despite having a limited space, they have managed to take care of animals there.”
Even though the lockdown was lifted on July 21, people were not allowed to gather and the zoo was on the list of services that had to remain closed. A month later, district administrators imposed prohibitory orders in the Valley, restricting movements of people. The orders continue with some relaxations, but facilities like zoos are still on the list of those which must remain closed.
The zoo authorities are now working on various measures that they can adopt to reopen it.
Officials said they have prepared the standard operating procedures among other measures to welcome visitors maintaining health and safety protocols. The zoo has also proposed limiting the number of visitors per day and selling tickets online to avoid infections.
“We have prepared the standard operating procedures with an aim to reopen the zoo once the government decides to allow public gatherings in places like zoos," said Pokharel. "This is preparation on our part if the government asks us how we are planning to reopen and welcome visitors.”
With no response so far from the government on their request for financial support, zoo officials are currently at sea, as its coffers are just set to run dry.
“We are struggling to meet expenses,” said Pokharel.
Apart from housing animals, the Central Zoo also serves as the only shelter for wild animals rescued from various parts of Kathmandu Valley and its outskirts.
“The central zoo is a historic and cultural site. Besides, the Central Zoo is also an educational centre for school students as well as veterinary students to learn about animal behaviour,” said Baral.
“For Kathmandu Valley, it is also a place for an outing. The central zoo is a hub for education and research, refreshment and recreation. It needs to be protected.”