Patiala Zoo as symbol of state apathy

Jagvinder Singh Brar

Patiala Heritage Festival is an annual feature. Unlike my wife and daughter, I could find no reason to visit the festival, given the dismal scenario of the state. But they insisted. ‘How come people with such rich heritage are passing through a difficult phase, symbolising the whole of Punjab and its people!’ I wondered.

I offered to take them to the festival but made it clear that I would not go inside. They reluctantly yielded. I drove them to the festival site. There was a mad rush. Nobody seemed to be bothered about the problems plaguing the state. All were enjoying the moment. Fine! It is the indomitable spirit of the common people of Punjab.

After they alighted, I headed for the nearby Patiala Zoo. The entry ticket to the zoo is Rs 20. Entry to the heritage festival costs Rs 10.

It is a small zoo, popularly known as Deer Park. The first enclosure belongs to the black buck and warned: ‘Don’t feed/tease animals.’ The warning implies much.

The next thatched shed was of the silver pheasant, whose feed was being shared by squirrels. A makeshift hut was for the grey partridge, trying to adjust to the unnatural environment. Parakeets were hanging on to the mesh wire, pecking it with beaks.

The Indian porcupine looked most depressed, lying motionless in the farthest corner of its enclosure. Spotted deer and nil gai were also a pathetic sight. The enclosures were barren; no green shrubs, no bushes around.

In one corner stood an abandoned glass structure that I have been visiting over decades. Its condition is symptomatic of a malady that has become endemic to the state. It is a classic case of waste of precious resources due to apathy. It is the Butterfly Inn, inaugurated by a former Chief Secretary, Punjab, in 1988, under the aegis of the Environment Society, Patiala. Even the zoology department of Punjabi University, with significant research on lepidoptera, has not paid any attention to this facility. The situation has similarities with Punjab.

Two peacocks (national bird) are also encaged along with two peahens. An alligator was lying still on the mound of earth in the middle of a muddy pond. The pea fowl, cockteal, silver dove and budgerigar in their huts seem resigned to their fate. My heart sank to see a lovebird carrying a thin twig in its beak to satisfy its instinct of building a nest, while striking against the mesh wire.

An emu came close. Through the net we had an eye-to-eye contact. Its red eyes were expressive. Soon the other and only companion of the bird came there, too, to feel the interaction between us.

The washroom sink was overflowing, unmindful of water conservation. The wildlife Act, prevention of cruelty Act, conservation regulations and the constitutional provision that enjoins upon every citizen to have compassion have lost their spirit.

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