“I killed a snake to save students in my school, but that incident never stopped haunting me. I used to wake up in the middle of the night wondering what misfortune was in store for me since I had killed not one but two snakes,” says Sushil Arora, a maths lecturer from Ambala. To get over his fear, the lecturer finally adopted a snake at Chhatbir Zoo last week.
Arora and his wife Anju have adopted a snake and deer for four months. “We checked the feed and are satisfied with it. Now I have decided to never kill any reptile or animal,” says Sushil.
While the Aroras were guided by their guilty conscience that harming an animal brings bad luck, there are many others who are making a beeline to feed these animals to propitiate the gods. Kishore Jain, a resident of Ambala, who works with an astrologer, says, “We have been telling people to adopt animals as in Hindu mythology feeding of animals, fish, crow and birds is considered good for our stars. We’ve sent many people from Ambala to adopt animals at Chhatbir. “
But not everyone is propelled by soothsayers, there are many others who are motivated by the sheer love of animals. The Chhatbir zoo staff said recently an NRI adopted a tiger for a month for Rs 17,200. Dr Harminder Virdi from Jalandhar adopted a turtle last year because she was inspired by the story, ‘Slow and steady wins the race.’ “This year it is parrots because my nephew likes them. I visit the zoo at least once in six months,” says Virdi.
Deer and monkeys are the most sought after animals for adoption, and their feed costs Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,700 a month, respectively. Snakes are the most wanted amongst the reptiles and their feed costs a mere Rs 300 a month.
The last one year saw 39 adoptions at the Chattbir Zoo and Rs 6.92 lakh in revenue. In all, the zoo is home to 1,270 animals from 102 species. They include two white tigers, leopards, polar bears, deer and elephants.
Forest block officer Harpal Singh says Chhatbir took to adoptions in 2010, and the number has been rising every year. “The amount for feed begins from Rs 50 a month and goes up to more than Rs 23,000 a month depending upon the animal you choose to feed.”
Elaborating on the system of adoption, he says, “The adopters pay for the feed of the animal they decide to adopt. They also fix a period for adoption, which can vary from a month to a year or more. The adopters can also come to check the feed. In some cases the adopters can see the animals or birds being fed, but in case of wild animals or reptiles they are not allowed to venture near the animals due to safety concerns.”
No contact between adopter and animal
The officials said the adopter is not allowed to touch the animal or have any human contact with it as taming of wild animals is prohibited. Besides the joy of knowing that an animal is being fed well due to them, the adopters also enjoy a tax rebate and a family pass that allows them to visit the zoo four times a year with five members.
Chhatbir zoo director Manish Sharma said the main aim of adoptions is to encourage empathy for the animals. “A person who adopts an animal would avoid killing it or other animals after that. Adoption helps in generating a sympathetic attitude towards animals; fund generation is just one part of it,” said Sharma, adding that besides superstitious beliefs, adoption is powered by genuine animal lovers as well.