Arignar Anna Zoological Park (abbreviated AAZP), also known as the Vandalur Zoo, is a zoological garden located in Vandalur, a suburb in the southwestern part of Chennai, India, about 31 kilometres (19 mi) from the city centre and 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Chennai Airport. Founded in 1855, the park was the first public zoo in India. It is affiliated with the Central Zoo Authority of India. Spread over an area of 602 hectares (1,490 acres), including a 92.45-hectare (228.4-acre) rescue and rehabilitation center, the park is the largest zoological garden in India.
The zoo houses 2,553 species of flora and fauna across 1,265 acres (512 ha). It houses more than 170 species of animals in about 81 enclosures. There are about 47 species of mammals, 63 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles, 5 species of amphibians, 25 species of fishes, and 10 species of insects in the park. The park, with an objective to be a repository of the state's fauna, is credited with being the second wildlife sanctuary in Tamil Nadu after Mudumalai National Park.
The park is located at Vandalur in the southwestern part of the Chennai Metropolitan Area, about 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) from Tambaram and about 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Chennai Airport. The whole of the park and the proposed night safari zone lie within the Vandalur Reserve Forest area located immediately to the southwest of Tambaram Air Force Station.
The entrance to the zoo lies on the eastern side of the Chennai–Trichy Highway (National Highway 45), also known as the Grand Southern Trunk (GST) Road, next to the Vandalur–Kelambakkam Road. The rescue and rehabilitation centre and the proposed night safari zone are located at the southern side across the Vandalur–Kelambakkam Road. The Vandalur Railway Station of the Chennai suburban railway network is located about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) from the main entrance of the park.
The zoo is located within the Vandalur Reserve Forest area. The zoo's ecosystem consists of dry deciduous and dry evergreen scrub forest vegetation of the Eastern Ghats, a degraded forest consisting of mostly thorny bushes, receiving an average annual rainfall of 1,400 millimetres (55 in) and an average annual temperature of 26 °C (79 °F). The terrain is a gentle undulating one ranging in altitude from 10 to 100 metres (33 to 330 ft) with an average elevation of 50 metres (160 ft) above sea level. The park was designed to keep the natural vegetation of the area intact except where enclosures, roads, and structures had to be constructed.
Originally a sparse scrub forest invaded by weeds, consisting of species such as Carissa sp., Gmelina sp., Eugenia sp., Acacia sp., Instia sp. and a few other dry evergreen forest species, the park's vegetation was gradually enriched by planting dry evergreen species. The entire campus has been fortified by means of a compound wall, preventing any biotic interference in the park and allowing the natural growth of vegetation, which give the park the look of a natural forest.
The park is built based on the 'open zoo' concept. The exhibits were originally based on taxonomic and geographical distribution of the species, but have now been replaced by ecological niches and habitats. The order of priority is local species, followed by regional, national, and international species. The use of moats has made it possible to house predator and prey in extended enclosures that provide a panorama of wildlife. There are over 75 moated enclosures in the park. Enrichments in the form of ladders, climbing materials, etc. are provided for the animals to move around the enclosure freely.
The park has 81 enclosures and more than 170 species of mammals, birds and reptiles, such as the barking deer, blackbuck, sambar, sangai, nilgai, wolf, tiger, jaguar, panther, hog deer, jackal, hyena, lion, giraffe, camel, otter, llama, elephant, a number of monkey species like Nilgiri langur, lion-tailed macaque, baboon, Hanuman langur and leaf-capped langur.
There are about 46 endangered animals of the Western Ghats, the Eastern Ghats and the Indian subcontinent such as the Nilgiri macaques, as well as other rare species including monitor lizard, chimpanzees, European brown bear, Muscovy duck, giraffe, Bengal tiger, white tiger, lemur, macaque, vulture, and star tortoises. The park is also home to exotic species such as the Australian flightless bird species of emu and cassowary. The park contains about 138 plant species, including cashew and eucalyptus. The dense vegetation of the park supports about 56 species of butterfly.
- Sanctuary aviaries
- Walk-through aviary
- Butterfly house
- Reptile house/serpentarium
- Amphibian house
- Crocodile enclosure
- Primate house
- World of nocturnal animals
- Small mammals house
The park has tree-lined paved paths for long treks inside the campus, and visitors can easily walk 15 to 20 kilometres (9.3 to 12.4 mi) during a visit. Battery-operated vehicles with a range of up to 80 kilometres (50 mi) are available for rent. There are about 9 such vehicles in addition to the 4 battery-operated vans used for the lion safari and 4 diesel-run road rails used for going around the zoo, and the zoo plans to purchase more. Each vehicle can carry 15 to 20 people, and each trip takes about an hour. A trial program of 20 rental bicycles for visitors, including 5 for children, was launched in 2008 as an eco-friendly option intended to reduce demand for the battery-operated cars. An e-bike facility was also inaugurated on 20 February 2010.
Refreshment outlets include a snack bar run by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC), an ice cream parlor and a soft drinks counter—all near the entrance. The park also maintains 16 toilets and nearly two dozen drinking fountains within the premises for the visitors. The zoo is open to public from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm except on Tuesdays, when the zoo carries out weekly maintenance works. All the animals, especially the big cats, are back in their cages after 5.00 pm and most tourists prefer to visit them before going on to the other exhibits. The zoo has a guest house located on Kelambakkam Road.
The zoo is fenced on all sides by means of the perimeter wall. The zoo security is mainly carried out by the forest subordinate staff of rangers, foresters and forest guards along with zoo security staff, who conduct regular patrolling of animal enclosures, stores and other buildings. Night security is carried out under the command of one range officer and other subordinates. The zoo has also employed private security personnel. From 1 December 2010, four persons from a private security service have been deployed along with forest rangers for night patrolling.