Located just 15 km from Chennai, the Arignar Anna Zoological Park, or Vandalur Zoo, is the largest park of its kind in India and is also one of the city’s most-popular tourist attractions. The park attracts more than two million visitors annually and is one of the largest repositories of fauna in the state. Spread over 512 hectares, the Vandalur Zoo is home to some 1,500 species of animals, birds and reptiles in over 160 enclosures, making it Chennai’s best destination to experience wildlife. Apart from animals local to the region, such as the Indian leopard, the gaur and the Indian elephant, the park is also home to some 46 endangered species, including the white tiger.
Bordering the sprawling Guindy National Park is the Chennai Snake Park and Children’s Park, which is one of the largest ex-situ conservation sites for reptiles in the city. Carved out the earlier forest regions of the ‘Guindy Lodge’, the Snake Park was conferred with the status of a medium zoo by the Central Zoo Authority in the 90s and became Chennai’s only zoo located within city limits. It’s a popular destination for wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists and contains several reptile species, including the king cobra, python, vipers, and mammals such as deer, jackals and porcupines.
The Pallikaranai Marshland, located near the Velachery suburb of Chennai, is one of the state’s most popular sites for birding and draws several dozens of migratory bird species annually. One of the region’s few remaining wetland ecosystems, the Pallikaranai marsh had for years fallen prey to urbanization and encroachments, greatly reducing it in size. However, conservation efforts over the recent decades, from both the government and wildlife/birding activists, have given the wetland a new lease of life. It is now visited by not only rare bird species, such as glossy ibis, cormorants, herons, and egrets, but also by hundreds of birding and nature photography enthusiasts. While the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary, located a little further south of Chennai, is better known as a birding spot, the Pallikaranai wetland is in fact home to a higher number of bird species. Apart from birds, the wetland ecosystem also has several other endangered species, like the Russell’s viper.
Home to some 2,500 animals, including most major crocodile species, the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust is one of Chennai’s best-known wildlife attractions. It is also an extremely important centre for the conservation of reptiles. The ‘Croc Bank’ is located along the scenic East Coast Road near Kovalam and houses over 14 of the world’s 23 major crocodilian species. It conducts crucial research in the area of herpetology as well. The trust also undertakes several conservation programmes all across the state and is involved in the rehabilitation of local animal dependent tribes, such as the snake-catching Irulas of Tamil Nadu.
Chennai is one of the few urban centres where the endangered olive ridley turtles come for nesting. However, due to the increasing urbanization of the city’s coastal areas, the nesting activity had taken a serious blow and had been declining for years, until volunteer groups and government departments took up the cause and started serious conservation efforts. During the first few months of every year, Chennai sees a large number of student volunteers and conservation activists take part in ‘Turtle Walks’ along the city’s beaches to make the region safe for the breeding of turtles. As of now, the Forest Department has already established a hatchery for olive ridley turtles near Adyar’s Broken Bridge. Volunteer groups, like the Student Sea Turtle Conservation Network and the Tree Foundation, undertake routine walks on the beaches of Neelankarai and Sholinganallur to aid in conservation efforts. Over the years, Chennai’s Turtle Walks have gone from simply being a conservation effort to becoming an integral cultural activity and a unique wildlife experience in Chennai.
The IIT Madras is one of Chennai’s largest and best-known educational institutions. However, apart from being home to some of the brightest minds in the country, the sprawling campus also houses a rich wealth of the region’s indigenous wildlife. Carved out of the Guindy National Park in the 1950s, the IIT Madras campus is one of the best examples of harmonious coexistence between men and animals and it is home to several species of deer, such as the chital and the blackbuck, along with a rich population of monkeys.