Wandering down Chennais wild side

Express News Service
Jun 03, 2011 at 08:03am IST

The mercury might be well and truly soaring in Chennai these past few summers, but that hasn’t stopped the zoo from becoming a ‘hot’ one-day vacation spot, it seems. A steady upward incline in the numbers admitted to the Arignar Anna Zoological Park (most commonly known as the Vandalur Zoo), bears testament to the fact that this sanctuary of the wild is not slipping away into oblivion.
KSSVP Reddy, zoo director, says, “Over the last five years, we have had a tremendous increase of entries recorded. This year (2010-11) has been the best yet.” The numbers speak for themselves: from a recorded tally of 11,87,904 visitors in 2006-2007 to a whopping 18,10,846 visitors in April 2010 – March 2011 at one of Chennai’s oldest ‘entertainment zones’.
With options for entertainment much more varied and definitely closer home — for a large section of Chennaiites, sweating it out for a walk through the wild does seem a little farfetched, especially considering the average weekend trip for the 18-30 age group.
Reddy reveals, “Most of the people who come here to spend the day are with their families.” Perhaps the reason is more economic than aesthetic, here. By the director’s own admission it is not surprising just how inexpensive a day at the zoo is.
“We charge `10 for a child and `20 for an adult, unlike most theme parks or movie halls where any charge runs into the hundreds, as a bare minimum.” And let’s face it, you might pay a whopping `150 to take your six-yearold to watch an animated Panda practicing Kung-Fu (in 3D), but a glimpse of a Bengal tiger up close, is not a thrill easily replaced.
Oddly however, that delightful tradition we once had in school, the annual ‘educational’ trip to the zoo, is now on a downslide. Nitin Nair, Class 7, Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram, says, “You get one excursion a year, I would rather go to an amusement park or a chocolate factory, than walk around in the hot sun all day.” And a round of calls to teachers in the city clarifies that this seems to be the majority vote.
Angeline Dharmaraj, Director of Green Valley Matric Hr Secondary says, “The trend has definitely shifted from educational trips to recreational trips. We take some of our primary classes to the zoo but if only there is something in the curriculum about wildlife.” Sadly, there are now fewer lines of noisy uniformed students with packed lunches, holding hands to ensure the class stays together. Government run schools continue their patronage, though.
Anyway, if there are fewer kids, this dip is almost well made up for by young couples from a slew of colleges in the vicinity who never seem to run out of conversation, but run out of places to have them. And unlike several coffee shops in the city that guilt-trip you into emptying your pocket, the longer you stay, the zoo comes with no time restrictions.
What’s more, owing to the large increase of people heading to the zoo in the summer, a whopping 54 additional bus services that will take you directly to Vandalur, have been introduced.
According to an MTC official, “There are 92 bus services to Vandalur every day of the week, and in addition to this, 90 bus routes that go via Vandalur to places like Guduvanchery and Chengelpet.” He adds, “This increased number of services will continue till August and based on the response we will decide whether or not to continue.” Perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to skip your weekly mall hop and drop by Vandalur next weekend. After all, it’s a jungle out there. Just without air-conditioning.

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