Arignar Anna Zoological Park, also known as the Vandalur Zoo, is a zoological garden located in Vandalur, a suburb in the southwestern part of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, about 31 kilometers from the city center and 15 kilometers from the Chennai Airport.
Chennai, the then Madras had the distinction of having the first zoo in India, started in 1855. Factors like air and sound pollution, insufficient place for accommodating the animals and highly dense human population around the corporation zoo became health hazards to animals of the zoo. Hence it was decided to shift the zoo from Moore market area to Vandalur Reserve Forest in the out-skirts of Chennai city. Works for the establishment of the zoo was started in 1976 and Arignar Anna Zoological Park was opended to public in 1985. It is one of the largest zoos in South East Asia sprawling over an area of 602 ha.
Arignar Anna Zoological Park 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 centre, the park is the largest zoological garden in India. As of 2012 the park houses around 1,500 wild species, including 46 endangered species, in its 160 enclosures.
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 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 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 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 The exhibits were originally based on taxonomic and geographical distribution of the species, but have now been replaced by ecological niches and habitats.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. 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. There are more than 500 deer of different varieties and an equal number of jackals in the free-range zone. In addition, there are four enclosures for deer—each housing about 30 animals.
As part of the park’s development plan, safari parks for lion, gaur and deer have been created on a hilly terrain covering an area of 70 hectares (170 acres), enabling the visitors to see the animals in their natural habitats. The lion park has been developed in an area of 30 hectares (74 acres) at a cost of about ₹ 2.358 million and is operational since October 1990 providing the visitors a 15-min drive into the safari. The safari contains 15 animals and these are involved in captive breeding.