The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park (PNHZP) Darjeeling, is all set to start an off display breeding centre for rare and endangered Himalayan species, specially snow leopards and red pandas at Tobgay Danra on the way to Peshok around 20 km from Darjeeling town. The forest department has allotted 5 hectares of forest land for this.
The PNHZP was founded in 1958 and specializes in the captive breeding of endangered Himalayan species including Snow Leopard, Red Panda, Tibetan Wolf; Blue Sheep, Himalayan Tahr and Satyr tragopan (crimson horned pheasant.) At present all these animals are being bred in enclosures at the PNHZP premises in Darjeeling.
The PNHZP is the coordinating zoo for the red panda breeding programme (Project Red Panda) in India. Under this programme red pandas are bred in captivity at PNHZP, Gangtok zoo in Sikkim and Itanagar zoo. The first breeding success under the Project Red Panda came in 1994.
Since then there have been around 40 Zoo bred Pandas at the PNHZP, many of the animals sent to other high altitude zoos. At present the Red Panda population stands at 9 males, 5 females including a male cub and a female cub.
PNHZP is the pioneer zoo to have initiated the captive breeding programme of snow leopards. In 1986 this programme had been started with 4 snow leopards. At present there are 4 males, 3 females. "There have been 52 births in captivity. Most of the animals have been given out to other high altitude zoos" stated AK Jha, director, PNHZP.
"Our main aim is to release the zoo bred animals in the wild. We had got immense success on 14th November 2003 when 2 zoo bred radio collared red pandas were released in the wild in the forests of Garibans. However this has not been tried out for the snow leopards” remarked Jha.
"We will be sending a proposal to the Central Zoo Authority for the off display breeding centre at Topgey Danra which is located in the Sinchal Wildlife Sanctuary. The survey is already complete. The state government will be providing the necessary funds for building the infrastructure" stated Jha.
With this off display breeding centre the animals will not be disturbed as visitors will not be allowed. They will have ample space also. Each enclosure will be of an area of half hectare each. Initially a pair of red pandas and a pair of snow leopards will be kept.
"We will try to hone the hunting skills of the zoo bred snow leopards. Once the animals are equipped for the wild we can try to reintroduce the zoo bred snow leopards in the wild" stated the Director.
Recently Hiten Burman, forest minister, government of West Bengal had visited the PNHZP along with Bratya Basu, higher education minister. "We will further upgrade the infrastructure of the Zoo" stated Hiten Burman.
While Burman christened the Red Panda cubs Ram and Janaki and a blue sheep cub "Nilu," Basu named a blue sheep cub "Bonny".