Madras Crocodile Bank reopens after lockdown – The Hindu

Chennai News

Human visitors reunite with their favourite reptilian residents as Madras Crocodile Bank reopens its gates after nearly eight months

The Madras Crocodile Bank and Centre for Herpetology had been sorely missed by Chennaiites during lockdown. The team knew this, but did not realise the extent of it till they opened their gates on Tuesday. “One of the first families to step in were regular visitors. The parents had been waiting to check in on the spectacled Caiman crocodile that they regularly adopt, but their nine-year-old was excited to see the new ones,” says Gnaneswar Ch, coordinator of the bank’s snakebite mitigation project.

“The new ones” are four Cuban crocodiles, two African slender-snouted crocodiles and the already popular saltie Ally. All long-time young residents, they had not been ready for public viewing back in March, when the bank last welcomed in visitors before closing the gates due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Come November, and they have freshly done-up pens of their own and are raking up fans already.

Now that the bank is open again, it is taking things slow, steady, and cautious. While masks are mandatory and temperature checks are done at the entrance, pen watchers in charge of specific animal residences throughout the bank’s vast interiors now have an added duty of ensuring that groups maintain the right distance from each other.

“Visitors so far have been relieved to notice that all our pen watchers and other staff members have face shields and masks at all times,” adds Gnaneswar.

Visitors at the recently reopened Madras Crocodile Bank
| Photo Credit:
Gnaneswar Ch

Online activities have also been increased. Says Zai Whitaker, managing trustee of the crocodile bank, “It appears to some extent that this [online] is how things are going to be for a long time. So we dived into the deep end, and are now fairly comfortable with it. We improved our Internet connection and have been doing a lot of online programmes like guided tours and Q&As.” There is an online session this Saturday as well. It is Children’s Day, and the bank plans to introduce child (and adult) viewers to its baby crocodiles.

Their usual engagement sessions in the real world — like their popular workshops and camps for children — are still on hold. “So far, my understanding is that parents are hesitant to leave their children anywhere for a long time,” observes Zai.

Walk-in visitors, however, are more than welcome. The crocodile bank relies on ticketed visits for about 50% of its income, and has been bereft of it for a large part of this year, including its peak months during the city schools’ summer holidays. Adds Zai, “This would normally be the peak time for foreign visitors, but there seems to be no chance for that this time.”

Chennai-based visitors, she says, are making up for it, though of course, more would be welcome. “We had 101 visitors through the day,” says Zai, “And I was just thinking to myself that normally, that is how many people we would see in an hour.” But while Chennaiites are being cautious in footfall, they are compensating with affection. And have been doing so throughout the lockdown, says Zai. Adoptions — wherein a well-wisher picks a particular resident of the bank and funds its food, healthcare and general upkeep for the year — increased multifold, and individual donations also kept coming in steadily.

“Every donation of ₹500 or ₹1,000 was precious,” says Zai, “Our connection with the city has really hit us during lockdown. We have been seeing just how much they love the croc bank, how they see it as their own place, how they want to help.”

The Crocodile Bank is open from 9 am to 5 pm all week, except Mondays.