Each year on Poush 14 of the Nepali calendar (December 29 or 30 depending), the Central Zoo in Jawalakhel, Nepal's one and only national zoo, culminates its fortnight-long celebrations. Poush 14 marks the day when the former King of Nepal, Late Majesty Birendra Bir Bikram Shah, handed over the management responsibility of the Central Zoo to NTNC on his 50th birthday.
As one of Central Zoo's most important annual day events, celebrations leading up to the main day are observed through a variety of engagements and activities that promote conservation learning and participation, competition and creativity, helping build collaboration, teambuilding, responsibility and a fun attitude toward conservation.
Especially gung-ho among Friends of Zoo (FoZ) schools—Central Zoo's own membership-based network of students and teachers covering more than 250 schools from within Kathmandu Valley—this year's popular activities included an interschool folk music competition and an indoor cricket tournament, this in addition to a football contest between the FoZ Teacher Committee members and NTNC staff. To promote conservation advocacy, dialogue and experiential learning among the wider public, a press conference about the zoo's activities and initiatives, along with a night-guided tour for 20 journalists was organized aiming to engage public understanding and interest in wildlife behavior and their management.
This year's main day anniversary event was marked by a gathering at the Central Zoo premises, bringing together conservation organizations and representatives (both from and outside government), students, educators, civil society members and media persons. Hon. Shakti Bahadur Basnet, Minister for Forests and Environment (and Chairman of NTNC), presided as the occasion's chief guest, handing over prizes to winners and participants, while congratulating the Central Zoo team over its national role for advancing values in the areas of public education and recreation, wildlife rescue and treatment, human resource development and technical proficiency.
Other speakers at the event Dr. Bishwa Nath Oli, Ministry of Forests and Environment Secretary, Mr. Gopal Prakash Bhattarai, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Director General, and Mr. Yajna Nath Dahal, NTNC Member Secretary laid emphasis on the growing importance of the Central Zoo in the landscape of Kathmandu's changing urban dynamics, this in addition to the changing context of governance and policies across the country, where plans are in the works to have province-level zoos in each of the nation's seven provinces.
24 years since the late king handed over management to NTNC, the Central Zoo is presently home to 112 species of wildlife, hosting more than 1.1 million visitors annually. Today the role of the Central Zoo has moved beyond just animal management or conservation education and recreation, still undoubtedly paramount. Its responsibilities have taken on other important dimensions for conservation. Especially given the zoo's long history and experience, its national role in leading wildlife welfare and safety, rescue and treatment, wildlife research and development, urban environment, technical knowhow and innovation, and its potentiality to bring together and organize the cluster of many disparate zoos operating across the country and lead best practices for future ex-situ conservation initiatives has become increasingly central.