India reptile park faces closure due to pandemic-induced financial crunch
Chennai, India, Aug 7 (EFE).- A reptile park, home to several endangered and unique species like iguanas and cobras, in southern India, is on the verge of a shut down due to an ongoing financial crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Its keepers say that over the last one year or so, it has become a challenging task to keep afloat the park, a go-to spot to get close with threatened reptile species, situated inside the Guindy National Park in Chennai, the capital of southern Tamil Nadu state.
“The park faces a serious financial crisis due to a prolonged closure that resulted in completely draining the revenues over the past more than 16 months,” its executive chairman S. Paulraj told EFE.
He blamed the government apathy for an overall “pathetic condition” of conservation and wildlife management in India that has gone “to the dogs” as the authorities cared very little for animal welfare.
The upkeep of the park, run by a trust, depended solely on ticket sales for revenue that would run in about 8 million Indian rupees (nearly about $110,000) annually, according to Paulraj.
With the park closed for visitors and reserved funds dwindling fast, it “faces the threat of a permanent closure,” he said.
Though the park re-opened to visitors briefly in November and was closed again when the second wave of the virus gripped India in April, the regular maintenance of animals has had to continue throughout the pandemic period.
Paulraj said the good news was that the Gangetic Gharial, a fish-eating crocodile that figures among the top protected species in India, and Indian pythons bred for the first time in the last several years.
The park has Gangetic Gharial juveniles and Indian python hatchlings to cater to now.
But the bad news is the keepers do not have enough resources to manage nutritious food that includes fresh fish, rodents, and chickens for its new and young inmates.
“The addition of young ones due to breeding of endangered species like Gangetic Gharial, pythons has added to the financial stress for their special feeding requirements,” Paulraj said.
The upkeep and feeding of the new pythons and the threatened species of crocodiles have cost the park more than it needed previously.
The iconic park, founded by Herpetologist Romus Whitaker in 1972, houses about 300 animals that include 20 species of snakes, three species of crocodiles, lizards, and exotic turtles.
The park has reduced its staff strength by nearly a half as a cost-cutting measure. Those who were able to retain their jobs are working on half of their usual paychecks.
To tide the crunch, the trust that runs the park has sought permission from the government to establish a small-scale venom extraction unit to sell the produce, known for its medicinal usages.
“The permission of the government was expected six months ago. Had the government allowed us to establish it, the financial crisis would have been managed,” Paulraj said.
The trust has asked the state government, charity groups, and individual volunteers to donate funds for running the park.
“Even if the park will re-open the for the public in a month or two, the visitation will be very poor till normalcy returns after the coronavirus pandemic eases,” he said. EFE