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Mumbai zoo is due for an upgrade. But will it be an improvement?
Concerns over the effects on the botanical garden as well as heritage structures within the grounds have held up the progress of the project. The national Central Zoo Authority approved the plan in 2009, but the city is waiting for the final approval from an advisory body known as the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee. The committee told the city in May that it was concerned the project would affect the existing vegetation in the garden including rare tree species, but it has not yet received a response, according to Umesh Nagarkar, who spoke on behalf of the committee.
“If the present plan is pushed ahead, the committee has doubts about whether both [the botanical gardens and revamped zoo] can coexist,” he said.
Nagarkar said the city could go forward without the approval of the committee, but that would be rare.
Environmentalists argue that instead of implementing such a big project, the zoo should upgrade its hospital facilities and small enclosures for the animals currently there, and it should relocate large animals that need more space to reserves or sanctuaries.
Some animal activists also oppose the plan, arguing that even an upgraded zoo would be incapable of providing enough open space necessary for the animals’ physical and mental health.
“There have been multiple efforts to try and improve conditions for the animals at this zoo, but the Mumbai zoo has shown time and time again that they either lack the will or the capability to actually go through with making even the most basic improvements at the zoo,” said Poorva Joshipura, chief functionary of PETA India, which has been investigating conditions at the zoo for the past decade.
She argued that the neglect for the animals and lack of open space causes them to show signs of frustration, such as pacing and other unnatural repetitive behavior, and suffer to the point of becoming ill and dying early. Joshipura said the animals — and money — should instead be sent to India’s national parks.
“We need to modernize the way we think of conservation and of protecting animals and of protecting species,” she said. “Just putting them behind bars and gawking at them is not enough.”
While environmentalists such as Almeida suggest the animals be moved elsewhere, the zoo officials argue the zoo must stay where it is because another plot of land large enough for an animal park is not available in the already overcrowded city.
“Both the zoo and the garden trees must coexist,” said the zoo director, Anjankar. “There is no forest without wildlife. There is no wildlife without trees.”