Toby Ninan retired from Delhi Zoo about two years back. With his varied experiences with the wild animals in the zoo, he is the right person to
direct your queries to. Hear what Ninan has to say about his life and chosen career!
It is not every one who reaches office to find that floods have stopped his work ! Even zoo folk who face all sorts of strange and funny situations would hardly expect to
find flooded animal enclosures.
I however worked for Delhi zoo where we had a catchment area around the monkey enclosures where a few heavy showers were sufficient to cause the area to be flooded making
the monkey houses ,barking deer and the American bison enclosures to be covered with water. These animals would have to be shifted to higher land to save them from drowning or keep them from escaping.
One day it rained continuously and the night saw it raining cats and dogs rather "tigers and hyenas in zoo language". Morning saw the lands around the monkey enclosure really
flooded as all the water had collected there- There was nothing much to think about - the head keeper and other animal staff went fully clothed into the floods to rescue the trapped animals. We were glared upon by zoo visitors. We would first wade and then
swim to catch these monkeys to transport them to safety. They were all perched up on dead trees in their enclosures and since their regular doors were under water we would have to cut open the top of their pens to catch ., and bring them to safety. We approached
the monkeys with some trepidation but since they had taken such a terrible soaking , they greeted us like long lost brethren and even the fiercest tamely entered their transport boxes.
The prospect of carrying heavy monkeys in shifting boxes was not very cheering so we called our elephant mahouts to come to our rescue and soon enough, we and the monkeys
were swaying atop the elephant backs to safety. There was another danger which the elephants had saved us from and this was from snakes who had been driven out of their holes by the swirling waters. While in the water we could hear hissings of angry cobras,
vipers and their like swimming furiously onto safety. Since we both had to face the fury of the floods they did not harm us in any way. We noticed that they reached the safety of high ground and left us in peace to rescue our animals.
Another victim of the rising water was the barking deer who had taken refuge on top of hillocks in their enclosures and though these are very excitable animals who could
dash and kill themselves if disturbed- they came tamely into the transport crates. The presence of elephants did not unnerve them! They had had enough of drenchings in cold muddy waters and were ready to leave these wet surroundings as early as possible.
The toughest shiftings were those of the American bison and it was nearly impossible to get heavy crates into flooded enclosures to catch and shift these animals. A mad plan
however hatched in my head and I decided to noose these huge cattle with ropes around their horns- both male and female possessed a good pair- and could be noosed and led to the safety of high ground into the nearest safe place which happened to be the Brow
antlered deer enclosure.
Buffalo who would otherwise charge and grind we poor humans to pulp stood calmly on high ground to allow us to noose them around their horns and allowed us to lead them swimming
through the enclosure over the overflowing moat and road finally getting on to the terra-firma of the emptied deer enclosure. It certainly was a moving experience to lead these huge bulls thundering on high ground, tethered at one end of a cotton rope being
led by a puny human at the other end.
All things good and bad finally come to an end and so did this tiring day and one could retire at the end of the day exhausted but satisfied that inspite of a number of odds,
coming close to being trampled, bitten or poisoned one could sleep in a dry warm bed ready to face any challenge the next day would bring.