Wednesday 12 June 2013

When Lalbagh housed a zoo

Today, this is one of the finest and most diverse botanical gardens in India. It also ranks among the best of its kind in the world. It is a must see for any tourist or visitor and for centuries it has its own tae to narrate.
Thousands of years ago, it was a burial place and several fragments belonging to the Paleolithic age have been recovered from the place. Over the centuries, it also became a place where some battles took place and even today a hero stone exists, standing a mute testimony to what it had been.
In the 18th century, it was well-known for its mango grooves and a small lake besides it. On one side of the lake was the ancient temple of Patalamma. Today, the lake has shrunk in size and the Patalamma temple is just a small forgotten relic of the past.
Even as the temple lies almost forgo0tten on Elephant Rock road in Jayanagar, the botanical garden still survives.
The botanical garden has been much enlarged and there is no trace of the mango groove. Today, the botanical garden is better known as Lalbagh and it is visited by millions of tourists and visitors alike.
Lalbagh has earned  name on the tourist and horticulture map of the world but very few know that this once verdant garden was also a zoological garden. Yes, the botanical garden also doubled up as a zoo and it existed till 1937 when the zoological gardens were dismantled and all the animals shifted.
Today, the Bannerghatta National Park is the only place near Bangalore where you can see a variety of  wildlife, including lions and tigers.
Of course, there are small sanctuaries and patches of forests around Bangalore where you can see wildlife but none can match the variety of  Bannerghatta, which is one of the largest zoological gardens in India.
Lalbagh, till 1937, was not only a botanical delight spread over 249 acres but also a zoo where the animals were housed in a special enclosure in the sprawling garden.
Apart from several cages, the garden also boasted of one of the best aviaries in Bangalore region. It also had a new and separate enclosure for deer, which was dismantled a few years ago after stray dogs attacked the deer and killed several of them.
Records available at the Horticulture Department in Lalbagh testify to the fact that the garden once boasted of housing not only tigers but even wolves, rhinos, bears, Black panther, monkeys, peacocks, Black swans, Cockatoos and other small animals like rabbits.
One of the first carnivorous animals housed in Lalbagh was the Black panther which in 1862.
There is an interesting record which says that a lioness escaped from its cage in Lalbagh in 1887. The lioness wandered around Lalbagh, scaring people away before it was caught and caged again. Luckily, there was no loss of life or even injury though the tigress gave many anxious moments to the staff manning Lalbagh.
The escape of the tigress led to a general outcry that its cage was not strong enough. However, the cages of other carnivorous animals, including panthers and wolves were fund to be sufficient strong to prevent their escape.
The carnivorous animals continued to enjoy their stay in Lalbagh till 1902 when the Mysore Government decided to shift them to the Zoological Garden in Mysore. Ten years later, in 1930, the other animals were shifted to Mysore Zoo as their accommodation in Lalbagh was found to be inadequate.        
The 1930s also saw the shifting of a large number of monlys frm Lalbagh to the Mysore Zoo and the Monkey House was repaired and modified into a picnic house for women wearing veils and purdah.
In 1938, the Forest Department gifted an elephant to Lalbagh and this elephant was used by the department staff to provide a ride for both adults and children. While adults were charged two annas for a ride, it was just an anna for a child.
The zoo was a brainchild of James Cameroon, the Superintendent of Lalbagh from 1874 to 1908. For Cameroon, the zoo was meant to provide entertainment for children.  
The Zoo was one of Cameroon’s many pet projects. Though some animals had been kept in enclosures in Lalbagh since 1866, Cameroon went about adding to the collection of plants and animals.  There was an outcry when he paid a princely sum of Rs. 50 for purchasing a tiger cub for his Lalbagh zoo. He also paid money to purchase gibbons and orangutans. He also paid Rs. 1,000 for importing a male orangutan from Sumatra.
There is no trace of the zoo today and all tat can be seen is the many birds and reptiles that grace the garden. There are scores of birds and at least 31 species can be seen at the Lalbagh lake.

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