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Small step to conserve big cat

On August 15 last year, when the country was celebrating the66th Independence Day, the zoo mandarins at Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park in the State Capital had one more reason to cheer. Two lion cubs were born to a pair of Asiatic lions-- Vishal and Saraswati -- that were specially brought from Hyderabad zoo under a breeding programme. But their enormous joy was short-lived.



The mother (lioness) refused to feed the cubs. As a consequence, the health of the cub, which was born weak, deteriorated and it died the next day. The other cub was then brought up with a lot of effort. After the mother refused to feed the second cub too, the zoo employees had to hand-feed it. The cub, named Sheru, survived on goat’s milk for the first three months and thereafter started to consume meat.

Weighing just 1.25 kg at the time of birth, Sheru weighed 25 kg when the
five-and-a-half-month-old cub was released in the lion’s enclosure on February 2 for public viewing. At present, his daily diet comprises 2.5 kg chicken and 250 gm liver against his mother’s intake of 9 kg buffalo meat and 3 kg chicken.

Since Asiatic lions are found only in Gir Forest of Gujarat in the country, the CZA mandarins were quite enamoured over the report on how the zoo officials had helped Vishal and Saraswati mate and made every effort for survival of one of its cub.
The officials of CZA, after mulling over a proposal on how to develop a lion
conservation zone on the premises of zoo spread over 152 acres of land, recently sanctioned Rs 71.22 lakh for the purpose.


“Impressed with the successful breeding of Asiatic lion here, the CZA has sanctioned Rs 71.22 lakh to develop a lion conservation area on the premises,” said Abhay Kumar, director of the Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park.

Developing the lion conservation area is aimed at providing an off display area to the lions, where they can enjoy their natural surroundings. “We have earmar*ked the rear portion of the existing lion enclosure for developing the conservation area. The project will be completed in six months time,” said the director. At present, there are five lions, including the cub, at the Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park. Apart from Vishal and Saraswati, the parents of Sheru, the remaining two lionesses are of African hybrid.
According to the established norms of CZA, breeding of hybrid lions is prohibited in zoos. “But we can go ahead with the breeding of Asiatic lioness,” the official added. The zoo mandarins said they would soon make the Asiatic lions mate again so that cubs are born this year as well. But they will have to be extra careful this time as last year they not only lost a lion cub, but three tiger cubs too.
Deccan Herald
 

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Return of the native

With its treasure trove of aquatic life, Chennai Public Aquarium is India’s first World Biotope



You may not be able to cuddle a fish. But that doesn’t deter the city’s many aquarium enthusiasts. So many, in fact, that Kolathur has grown into a hub for this hobby — not just for India, but Southeast Asia as well. Keeping fish may seem simple, but it is a hobby that must be approached responsibly. To do that, professionally-run public aquariums are essential. Now, Chennai finally has one that is of international standards in terms of display and stocking parameters.

The Chennai Public Aquarium at Chetpet Eco Park is India’s first World Biotope and Chennai’s first public aquarium. It features various biotopes of the world, each containing within it a recreation of that region’s exact natural habitat and fish. Each is accompanied by digital info displays. This is a Public-Private-Partnership initiated by the Tamil Nadu Fisheries Development Corporation (TNFDC) with Aquasstar.

Sam Solomon, a key resource person for this project, lists some of the species from across the world that Chennaiites will get to see here. The South American biotope, he says, includes rare specimens such as the peacock bass, talking catfish, freshwater stingray and leporinus stratus. The Central American one features salvinis, red devils and firemouths, among others. The African one has the “very rare” giraffe catfish, the upside-down catfish and the peacock chichlid to name a few. Inhabitants of the Southeast Asian biotope include rainbow shark, tiger barb and the rare odessa barb, while the Australian one houses eight rare varieties of the Australian rainbowfish.

Other rare specimens from around the globe
  • Ornate bichir
  • Senegal bichir
  • Clown knife fish
  • Swamp snakeheads
He says that having fish has been his passion since he was in school, adding, “We hope those who come to this aquarium will learn to become more responsible towards aquatic life. The rate of extinction of species under water is much more rapid than over land, wildlife under water is threatened not just by pollution and habitat loss but also the release of non-native species that rapidly over breed and kill native stocks.”

He adds, “The hope is to quickly have smaller tanks that focus on the little gems of fish and invertebrates found in Indian waters and have posters and interactive events. The Government gave us a free hand once they realised that we were passionate and competent and were eager to repay that trust and get others as interested in this as we are. Perhaps we will eventually even do fish study trips to biotopes within the State. Anything is possible!”

Return of the native

The “monsters’ tank” will awe visitors with the size of the fish but also remind buyers to be aware of the final length fish will grow to before they buy them. In the tanks are alligator gars, large freshwater fish species of North and Central America that can grow up to 10 feet long, and bichir, a two-to-three-feet-long species from Africa. Both these species have continued to exist virtually unchanged since the age of the dinosaurs.

A big focus for the aquarium is going to be fish native to India, especially the Southern states, particularly Tamil Nadu. The number of colourful fish we have in Indian rivers is staggering and hardly ever make it to fish tanks, either because hobbyists don’t know about them or because they are not considered as “cool” as the fish from abroad. But native species are extremely hardy, and when their habitats are replicated, can be fascinating to watch and give one great peace of mind. The brackish water tank in the aquarium contains fish, along with rocks and sand, all sourced from in and around Chennai.

Exotics near home

The Gulf of Mannar forms a biotope by itself, and is home to some interesting species
  • Longtail stingray
  • Honeycomb moray eel
  • Porcupine puffer
  • Giant spotted puffer
  • Evileye puffer
  • Queen cory
Sam points out that the native fish logo — the denisonii — has become Kerala’s fish now. “For our logo, we picked the Tambraparni barb — the river starts and ends in our state and the barb is a beautiful specimen especially when sunlight glints off its scales,” he says. Both these species inhabit the Indian native fish aquarium, as do the orange chromide and filamentos barb. He adds, “We hope this will spur young minds to act in conservation. In the Tambraparni for example, upstream dams, pollution and the introduction of foreign tilapia have decimated native stocks.” The aquarium will soon have outreach programmes to inspire Chennai to work towards conserving water and the life that lives within it.

Chennai Public Aquarium is located at Chetpet Eco Park, KMC, 814, Poonamallee High Road. It is open from 10.30 am to 8.30 pm every day, including on national holidays. Entry is ₹50 for adults, ₹30 for children and free for the differently-abled (there is wheelchair access).
 
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