Popular penguin exhibit breathes life into Byculla Zoo

Byculla Zoo or Jijamata Udyaan was formerly called Ranichi Baag (Queen's Gardens) after the original British name Victoria Gardens.

Mumbai: Twelve-year-old Prathamesh Sat-pute’s joy knew no bounds, when he saw little penguins running all over the enclosure at Byculla Zoo. “They were so beautiful. I had seen them only on TV till now. I was so excited to see them with my own eyes,” the child said.

True to Prathamesh's words, the tiny penguins have given a new lease of life to Byculla zoo, which was fast losing its charm with city residents. The penguin craze is so huge that not even the hike in entry fees has deterred Mumbaikars from thronging the zoo so as to catch a glimpse of these exotic birds. The substantial increase in zoo revenue collections has proved that the move of bringing the penguins to Mumbai has paid off.

On July 26 last year, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) brought three male and five female penguins to the zoo from Coex Aquarium, Seoul (South Korea). After initially being kept at the quarantine centre, the exotic birds were opened for public viewing in March this year.

The move had initially come in for sharp criticism, with many expressing concerns about whether the penguins would be able to survive the city's hot conditions. The worst fears seemed to come true when Dory, an 18-month old female penguin, died after a brief illness in October 2016.

But since then, the penguins have been doing fine and have become a major attraction for tourists. Even after the BMC imposed a hike in the entry fee hike for maintaining the state-of-the-art facilities installed at the zoo for the penguins, the crowd has continued to grow. “Byculla zoo is the first in the country to have penguins. So it has become a tourist attraction for not only Mumbaikars but also visitors to the city. We will also undertake a phase-wise development of the zoo in the near future. It will add further charm to the zoo,” said Dr Sanjay Tripathi, the zoo director.

Till July this year, the Byculla garden and zoo used to charge visitors Rs 5 as entry fee (even as children were charged Rs 2). However, the rates were hike from the month of August to Rs 50 per person and Rs 100 for a family of four.

“If I am getting my money's worth by visiting the zoo, then I don't mind paying more. The authorities should bring more attractions like penguins to the zoo,” said Rudresh Satpute, a Lalbaug resident.

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