I came across the animal ‘Red Panda’ when I was studying in standard three. Yes, I first found it in Walt Disney’s 1967 animated film ‘The Jungle Book’, based on Rudyard Kipling’s famous book (1894). The red panda was called ‘Kichi’ in the story and was a friend of the protagonist, ‘Man-cub Mowgli’. I found red pandas to be one of the cutest animals on earth and dreamt of having one as a pet. That year itself we visited Darjeeling during our Durga Puja vacation and my dad gifted me the book from ‘Oxford Book and Stationery Co.’ This book shop is an iconic landmark on the mall, running for more than 6 decades. Well, that year I had a double bonanza with red pandas. We visited the Darjeeling Zoo and bang on! I saw red pandas and that joy I felt at that moment is still etched in my heart. I keep visiting Darjeeling often and I make sure that I don’t miss the zoo. There are numerous things to see at Darjeeling Zoo which I will share here. Yesterday, 17th September, was 2022’s International Red Panda Day.
Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park
Darjeeling Zoo, called Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, spread across a sprawling 70 acres of land on Darjeeling’s Birch Hill, was established in the year 1958. At an average elevation of 7000 feet, it is India’s largest high altitude zoo. It has been declared India’s best zoo even this year. Endangered animals like red panda, snow leopard and Himalayan wolves are rare things to see at Darjeeling Zoo. The zoo successfully specializes in breeding these animals adapted to alpine conditions. It is the first Indian zoo to have received the prestigious international award, ‘The Earth Heroes’ in 2014, out of 300 zoos all across the globe.
Things to see at Darjeeling Zoo
The entrance of the zoo has some murals done, popular for Instagram clicks. As you enter through the main gate, there is a statue of Lord Buddha on your right. There are some souvenir stalls and food stalls on your left. The entry ticket (Rs.60) is a combined ticket for the zoo, Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and the Bengal National Museum as well as. There are loads of rare birds, rare animals and also an aquarium section on display. The captive breeding section is prohibited for visitors. This is not a typical Indian zoo where the animals are brutally caged; enough space is provided for them to feel being at natural habitat. There are several trees and rare orchids in the zoo. Besides animals, birds and reptiles plants and the scenic view are also things to see at Darjeeling Zoo. Visitors have a properly guided path which if they follow they would not miss out a single animal. Take the road in front on your left uphill and come down the stairs, as guided at the same place from you started. After this round climb uphill on the slope that lays on the other side. This is meant for the precious red pandas.
Unique Animals (Mammals, Birds and Reptiles) at the Zoo
Himalayan Black Bear attracts attention the moment we enter the zoo. Then there are yaks and nilgai. Not every zoo houses these animals. I have also seen Takin, the national mammal of Bhutan, at the zoo. It is unique and rare. Huge varieties of deer are present like Musk Deer, Blue Sheep, Sambar, Barking Deer, Goral, Himalayan Tahr and more. The Bengal Tigers are amazing and the Black Panther is a show stopper. Clouded leopard and snow leopard are amazing too. The Himalayan wolves look graceful while the jackals look playful in the open rocky space. Himalayan Salamanders, highly endangered reptiles, are also present here. Their origin dates back to the days of the dinosaurs. Birds like Macaw, Hornbill, parakeets, pheasants and Mynahs fill the aviary. Well, getting back to what we started with; the red pandas. A special section is provided to them, the Red Panda Conservatory Centre. It is wonderful to watch these shy animals walking on the branches of the huge trees. These creatures are really cute.
Norms of the Zoo
It is essential to be calm and silent. In the open natural environment one should keep in mind not to disturb these animals in any way. Animals like red pandas are very shy. Too much of noise only makes them move further away from people. Photography is allowed but one must not use flash and keep calm. Absolutely no littering is tolerated. The animals at the Darjeeling Zoo can be adopted. One can take financial responsibility of food and medication of any of the animal.
Darjeeling, the Queen of Hills, inspire people with the view of the majestic Kanchenjunga and the dreamy misty roads, with her old world imperial charm and lively Mall and the iconic eateries. The lush tea gardens and the tooting toy trains are world famous. I am a frequenter to Darjeeling and I know there are hundreds like me. Out of so many ravishing spots in Darjeeling, the things to see at Darjeeling Zoo are special too and must not be missed.