KAMLA NEHRU ZOOLOGICAL PARK – ZOO COMPLEX, CHACHA NEHRU BALVATIKA and PADMASHREE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM - created by REUBEN DAVID
Kankaria zoo, also known as Kamla Nehru Zoological Park was established by Rueben David in 1951 spread over 31 acres. Earlier it was known as Hill Garden zoo. It was rated as the best zoo in Asia from 1963- 1990.
The zoo is situated at Maninagar area in Ahmedabad. Then, there were 450 mammals, 2,000 birds, 140 reptiles in a 31 acre zoo. It was a treasure of wild animals like tigers, lions, panthers, python, anaconda, snakes, elephant, spotted deer, blackbuck, elephants, ostriches, emu, flamingoes and crocodiles. It had a record of breeding of rare species like pythons, crocodiles, flamingoes, porcupines, bearcats and wild asses. More than 2 million people visited it every year.
It was then known as Hill Garden Zoo.
When the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation decided to make a zoo on the hillocks around Kankaria lake, my father was a well known veterinary doctor, so the Mayor of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation invited him to make the zoo.
Reuben David created the zoo around the Hauz-e-Kutb or Kankaria lake built in 1451 by Sultan Qutb-ud-din. It is designed like a polygon with 34 carved sides with steps leading into the water and an elaborate carved water sluice. The circumference of the lake is one and half mile.
The lake was named Kankaria, because the sultan had thrown a pebble or kankar towards this particular area and decided to construct a lake there. And, standing there on a hillock, the sultan had also seen a hare attacking a dog. He was so impressed that he coined the saying, “Jab kutte pe sassa aya, tab Qutb-ud-din ne sheher basaya,” literally meaning, when a rabbit attacked a dog, Qutb-ud-din decided to make a lake in the city of Ahmedabad.
When Reuben David prepared the blue print for the zoo, it was named Hill Garden Zoo, later, it was renamed Kamla Nehru Zoological Park.
From a modest beginning the zoo slowly grew and each animal came, with its own story.
Reuben David started the zoo with birds and animals that the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation had bought from Roop-Nagar, a small traveling circus.
Their shows were held in a tent on the Sabarmati riverbed.
It had been very successful, running to packed houses. There were exotic birds like African gray parrots, colourful macaws, love birds, Pouter pigeons, a goat with a long white beard and enormous curled horns, a Blue-Bull, white rats in a cage with mini turn-wheels and a blue Persian cat with large whiskers and blue eyes. At the entrance, there were aquariums of tropical fish and sea horses.
The advertisement in the newspapers and hoardings carried the picture of a red sea horse. This drew large crowds as people went to Roop-Nagar out of curiosity, to see the horse-headed fish, which floated on its tail and looked like a dragon. Another tank with sand had a cobra, which, when provoked, showed its spectacled hood.
Another attraction was Manilal the animal keeper, who walked around Roop-Nagar, dressed like a maharaja, a python draped around his shoulders, which he dared the bravest to touch. But, the main attractions of the show were the black poodles with bells on their collars. They were dressed in skirts and had ribbons tied like topknots on their heads. They sat on stools and walked on their hind legs, with front paws folded-in, as though they were dainty ladies taking a walk in the garden or they jumped through hoop-rings, to resounding applause from the audience.
After Roop-Nagar was installed at Hill Garden Zoo, as a beginning, Reuben David had made a small green house with an aviary on the hillock near Kankaria lake. He was however already dreaming of making a zoo with tigers, lions, panthers and all types of exotic animals and birds but he did not know how he was going to fulfill his dream.
Soon afterwards the front page of a newspaper carried a four column photograph of Reuben David with a panther cub in his arms. It is said, that the prince of a royal family had gifted the cub to the zoo. At the time, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation had not decided if they wanted to house carnivorous animals. So, the cub remained in Reuben David’s home for a month. It stayed on a leash, spending the day with Reuben David at the zoo and returning home with him in the evenings. The cub spent the night, curled up in one of the kennels. He was friendly and played with the dogs. When he grew bigger he was given an enclosure at the zoo with another panther cub for company. Slowly Reuben David expanded the zoo with other panthers, lions, tigers, deer, zebras, kangaroos and all types of birds and reptiles. He took personal care of the birds, animals and reptiles and it was a common sight to see him enter cages of tigers and lions.
Every morning at eight, dressed in well starched khaki clothes, Reuben David left for the zoo and returned home at eight. He did not accept a house in the zoo, which was offered by the municipality, as he valued the privacy of his home. Yet, there were days of tension, when an animal or bird was sick. Father would become sad and if it died, there followed days of mourning. And, most importantly he was never bitten or mauled by any animal, bird or reptile at the zoo.
Slowly, Reuben David cam to be known as the much loved “Dada” or grandfather, almost seen like a modern-day Tarzan, because of the way, he handled birds, animals and reptiles, which he tackled with strength, tact, love and good humour.
(The Zoo Complex is now part of the Kankaria Lakefront Project.)
CHACHA NEHRU BALVATIKA – Created by Reuben David
This entire complex created by Reuben David on a series of hillocks surrounding the Kankaria Lake to save the natural environment of the area. So, Balvatika was built on a hilltop, which commands a panoramic view of the lake. It has a spectacular Japanese style gateway, along with a boat shaped like the Biblical Noah’s Ark. It also has a magnificent swing made with the typical wood carvings of Gujarat, which showcases the rich cultural heritage of Gujarat and a Hall of Mirrors, which makes people of all ages, laugh; as their images change from fat to thin. The children’s park also has many sculptures and allows children to enjoy themselves in a free environment.
PADMASHREE REUBEN DAVID NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM –
(It was originally created by Reuben David with the art-work of Shri Dilipsingh Gaekwad of the royal family of Vadodara)
This museum has picturesque dioramas of birds, animals and reptiles in their life-like environment.
(This museum is now maintained by the staff and students of the Department of Museology, Maharaja Sayajirao University.
Dr.R.K.Sahu is the present Zoo Superintendent of The Kamla Nehru Zoological Park, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
The symbol of State Bank of India is inspired from the Kankaria lake.)