India's oldest reptile park, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, is facing an unprecedented crisis. Rare and exotic reptiles housed there might have to go hungry in near future due to a fund crunch - a tribulation they never had to suffer in the 40-year-long history of the park. And the reason is coronavirus lockdown.
The Madras Crocodile Reptile Bank Trust works towards conserving, breeding and releasing gharials into the wild. As a non-profit public trust, the park is completely dependent on ticket sales to pay for its staff's salaries and upkeep of the crocodilians and other reptiles under its care. Unfortunately, this revenue stream has gone dry on back of the coronavirus lockdown.
The reptile park has not seen any footfall since March 16, reported India Today TV, adding that the situation is likely to persist in foreseeable future. Already two months into the lockdown, the establishment is rapidly running out of funds needed to keep its reptilian inmates fed. Between March 16 and the end of June, the park estimates a loss of 1 lakh visitors and Rs 80 lakh in revenues.
The park was founded by Rom Whitaker, an America-born herpetologist and conservationist who has lived and worked in India since the early seventies, and is revered as the patron saint of Indian snake-lovers. Whitakers lives with his wife, environmental writer and filmmaker Janaki Lenin on a farm near Chennai.
Built on a costal dune forest close to the Bay of Bengal, the Madras Crocodile Reptile Bank Trust is home to 2,000 adult crocodiles, including gharials, Indian mugger crocodiles, and Siamese crocodiles, 100 juvenile crocodiles and at least 100 other reptiles like iguanas, rare lizards, skinks, snakes, tortoises and turtles. These include green and blue iguanas, green anacondas and giant tortoises from Seychelles, as well as rare specimens like albino cobras. All of these reptiles have specific diets that need to be carefully cleaned and rationed, and distributed according to an infallible timetable.
Senior staff at the reptile park have already taken 10-15 per cent voluntary salary cuts and activities have been reduced to bare minimum to conserve costs. However, the upkeep of animals cannot be neglected, who need uninterrupted food and healthcare, along with constant monitoring and care for 100 juvenile crocodiles.
A fundraiser in April had raised Rs 3.5 lakh for the reptile park, but that is nowhere near enough. As a non-profit public trust, the park cannot go to government for help either. Now, it is planning to raise funds via crowdsourcing to arrange food for the reptiles, India Today TV reported.
"We're giving the public a chance to help us by 'adopting' a crocodile," Allwin Jesudasan, Joint Director at Madras Crocodile Bank Trust told India Today TV. "This goes towards feeding and maintaining the creatures. People can pay anything from Rs 1,000-50,000 for a year."
The reptile park is hoping animal lovers from around the globe to come together in this time of crisis to help feed the crocodiles in the near future. Those willing to help can donate on madrascrocodilebank.org.