The Kitchen of Assam State Zoo cum Botanical Garden
Abed Ali is known as a daredevil among his colleagues, friends and family.
His world revolves around feeding and taking care of Nandini, Sati, Kazi, Birina and Chilarai. If Nandini, Sati and Kazi love to gorge on chicken and mutton, Birina and Chilarai love beef.
Ali, who is an animal-keeper at the Assam State Zoo cum Botanical Garden, is assigned with the task of cleaning the enclosures of the Royal Bengal Tigers (Birina, Chilarai and Kazi) and White Tigers (Nandini and Sita) , all aged between 12 years -20 years.
“Every day, we procure more than 10 kg of meat for the five tigers. In the morning, I feed them with chicken and mutton and in the noon, at around 2pm, I give them beef. A vitamin syrup is mixed in the raw meat as prescribed by the doctors to keep them healthy,” said Ali.
The Assam State Zoo, spread across 432 acre, is the largest of its kind in the Northeast region. The zoo is located within the Hengrabari Reserve Forest at Guwahati. The zoo is home to more than 1000 animals, mammals, birds and amphibians.
“I clean the floor of their cells every day. However, the tigers recognize me whenever I call them by their names but still I maintain a distance. We have different techniques while serving food and cleaning the dirt. I don’t get scared. I love the way they pounce on the meat which I serve them,” shared Ali.
The ration procurers are shortlisted as per tenders issued by the State Government. As per units, 16 suppliers are presently providing food items at the Zoo.
The Assam State Zoo was established in the year 1957 and was open to public viewing in the year 1958.
Another animal-keeper Mohammed Ali, whose day normally starts at 8 am at the Zoo, shared, “I look after six bears, twelve leopards and two black panthers. I am feeding the animals in the Zoo for the last 22 years. The animals recognize me and have never harmed me in anyway.”
A normal day in the Zoo starts with the arrival of the ration vans from 8 am onwards. Grass vendors arrive at 7:30am. The workers, assigned to feed the animals and birds, first wash the sole of shoes in potassium water and there after enter the ration store house.
“According to our beats, we systematically place the items inside the ration room as per instructions issued by the ration in-charge. We then wash the items in water properly. We measure and cut the vegetables, meat is cut or minced as per requirements, the fish varieties are segregated as per their sizes and thorns, wheat, whole grains, cereal , sprouts are stored in designated containers or are mixed for feeding some animals or birds,” said Biren Sarma, ration in-charge, Assam State Zoo.
He added, “For the bears, payosh (rice pudding) is prepared by our specially-trained cooks. Honey, unit as prescribed by veterinary doctors, is also mixed in the payesh. Boiled egg is also served to the bears. All our cooks wear gloves, masks and boots while cleaning and preparing the food items.”
Sarma further informed that every day, around 72 kilograms of fish, both big and small varieties, are served to the 64 species of birds. Vegetables and fruits like cabbage, beans, cucumbers, carrots, bananas, sprouts, brown breads, apples, rice, grains, whole cereal, eggs, sugarcane, Indian gooseberry (amla) comes in a huge quantity for the herbivorous animals. Food is served only once, before 12 pm, to all the animals and birds. The rhinos (one Indian and One African), tigers and lions are served food twice before sunset. There are 71 numbers of reptiles, 515 mammals (11 numbers of species) and 576 birds at the Zoo.
Snakes like python are not served food daily. They are served live chickens, raw eggs, dragonflies and lizards. Whereas, birds like flamingoes, pelicans, kingfishers, swans, emus and strokes are served fish. Deer and elephants – Julie, Pulpuli and Madhavi – are served fruits and vegetables. A zoo official shared that Madhavi doesn’t allow any ‘drunken man’ in and around her. Elephants are also served jaggery and once a month, all animals are served black salt for digestion. Tortoises are served brown breads.
Assam State Zoo Assistant Conservator P Baruah said, “From receiving the ration to serving it at the enclosures, everything is done in a systematic way. Once I receive all the animals’ daily report, it is forwarded to the veterinary doctors and pathologists for their feedback if any animal or bird needs treatment. According to their reports, our team starts working on it.”
He added, “The diet chart of all the animals and birds are prepared by our doctors and accordingly, they are provided meats, grains and so on. Food is only served after the food quality is tested by the doctors.”
Dr Panchami Sharma, pathologist, Assam State Zoo, said, “Every day, I take a tour of the Zoo with an ambulance and visit all the enclosures to observe if the animals are eating properly or not. We have sufficient water in the Zoo; a tap is available in each enclosure.”
Dr Bhaben Ch Kakati, veterinary, Assam State Zoo, daily ‘reviews the health report of the animals’.
Laboratory technician Hara Govindo Das, shared, “When a new animal comes to our zoo, we offer them chicken, mutton and beef in due intervals. We observe which meat they like and are able to digest. Beef is cheaper than chicken and mutton. We have a separate beef storing house.”
Rescued animals are served ‘special food’ as prescribed by veterinary doctors.
Animal rescuer Harish Chandra Shil shared, “Since 1984, I have rescued many animals and snakes. I drive around daily with the food items. Rescued animals are first examined by doctors and then served food as per their diet-chart. Feeding anyone gives you immense pleasure and since we spend so much time with them, they wait for our keepers, when hungry, to serve them food. Their joy on sighting the food is visible to all.”
If food can make the world go around for humans, it holds true for animals too.