This story is from January 17, 2012

City zoo ropes in students to keep a watch on visitors

CHENNAI: Kaanum pongal usually attracts lakhs of visitors to the city’s lone zoological park in Vandalur, 32 km south of Chennai, creating a logistical nightmare for animal keepers and unsettling the beasts in their cages all day long. But this time, the zoo officials have roped in the services of hundreds of foresters and college students to put an elaborate security management system in place.
The outer ring of the cover, zoo officials said, would comprise two student-volunteers. The middle-ring would have forest officials. The third and final layer of protection would be the zoo officials themselves, including animal keepers. The three-tier system is an effort to prevent unruly visitors from making noise in front of enclosures or chucking objects at the animals. At present, the zoo has around 1,500 wild species including 46 endangered species in its 160 enclosures. “Visitors can enjoy watching wild species and take pictures in front of enclosures but they would be advised not to disturb animals and birds,” zoo director and chief conservator of forests, KSSVP Reddy told TOI.
Apart from the existing 250-odd zoo staff, officials have roped in around 150 forest officials including range officers from neighbouring districts like Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur and Vellore to implement the plan. Besides, around 150 student-volunteers from colleges like MCC and Loyola College would be deployed in front of enclosures. The volunteers would issue tickets at 20 additional counters. They would also screen baggage for disposable plastic products. Visitors are not allowed to carry plastic products inside the zoo.

Officials also intend to advise visitors to behave themselves using a public address system every ten minutes. CCTV cameras have been installed at spots where visitors are expected to gather including the more popular enclosures which house white tigers and lions and at the food courts. “We were given day-long training on the dos and don’ts that should be passed on to visitors. We are also told to keep an eye on children, who often go missing due to such rush. Above all, we too get a chance to watch wild species in close quarters,” said K Sekar, a student-volunteer.
The zoo has witnessed a rise in number of visitors and revenue over the past few years, recording an average annual % rise of 15% in number of tickets sold. Cost of the ticket has increased from Rs three for children between five and 12 years to Rs 10 while for adults, the price has gone up from Rs five to Rs 20. “During Kannum pongal in 2011, around 58,000 visitors came to the zoo and over Rs 10 lakh was earned through ticket collection on that day alone. We expect more visitors on Tuesday,” Reddy noted.
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