Central Zoo

[Note: Click on any photo to enlarge it.]

I had a delightful day at the Central Zoo in Jawalakhel. Despite some problems, the zoo is popular with families. The Friends of Zoo collaborates with 200 schools in Kathmandu Valley. The zoo is working on better enclosures with improved habitats for animals and there’s a recently established Animal Hospital.

I saw one obviously Western couple leaving as I arrived. Otherwise I didn’t notice any Westerners in a visit of well over two hours. They’re missing out.

Posing at the fountain

Posing at the fountain

Himalayan griffon

Himalayan griffon

As much as I’ve enjoyed seeing the multi-starred sites like Patan Durbar Square, there’s nothing like a visit to the zoo for seeing Nepali families enjoying life together in a relaxed fashion. There’s photo taking (both ways) and ample opportunities for casual chats. This gives me a much better sense of the country than seeing some impressive monument.

People watching

As with any zoo, there’s a clear priority on what to see: Plants and physical layout, yes; animals even more; and people best of all. Girls and women were often in beautiful saris and other costumes, perhaps in part because of the holiday (Rama Navami, a spring Hindu festival). Boys and men, including me, were in the obligatory, international male costume of t-shirt and jeans, or other rough pants.

Boating on the central pond

Boating on the central pond

There were groups of pre-school age children, fathers with children, nature lovers, teenagers, old people, visitors from mountain villages, romantic couples, and many more.


Nepal has remarkable changes in elevation and associated variation in eco-climatic conditions. It lies between the tropical Indomalaya ecozone and the temperate Palearctic ecozone. A total of 118 different ecosystems have been identified. All of this leads to Nepal being a biodiversity hotspot, albeit one under severe threats as with biodiversity everywhere on the planet.

Getting organized

Getting organized

Among the notable mammals in Nepal are pangolins, Bengal tiger, one horned rhinoceros, Asiatic elephant, red panda, snow leopard, and Tibetan wolf. There are many reptiles unique to Nepal and over 900 bird species. The Himalayan griffon vulture is is the largest and heaviest bird found in the Himalayas. There are also many unusual fish, invertebrates, and plant life. The red rhododendron grows throughout Nepal and is a national symbol. The zoo houses many of these creatures and seeks to expand its collection, especially of indigenous fauna.


Red panda

Red panda

The zoo has problems related to space, budget, training, and animal care. It reminds me of some zoos I visited when growing up in the US, before funding improved and international zoo standards were enforced. However, after 1995, the National Trust for Nature Conservation took over the zoo and has initiated projects to make it a fully modern zoo, with natural habitats, and facilities for education and research. It’s already become a refuge for live animals being smuggled internationally.

A pigeon, the best animal at the zoo

A pigeon, the best animal at the zoo

Comparing to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago illustrates the challenge for the Central Zoo. It has half the acreage and about 3% of the budget. Even considering purchasing power parity it’s trying to do a lot with little.

Juddha Sumsher J.B. Rana created the zoo in 1932 as a private trophy. He was maharaja and ruled Nepal as head of the Rana dynasty. This explains the two incongruous statues of women standing in prominent positions. One is of his mother and the other of his sister-in-law. The zoo opened to the public in 1956 under various managements. It’s called the “Central Zoo,” even though it’s the only one in Nepal.

National Botanical Garden

I had a wonderful day at the National Botanical Garden, about half an hour by motorized transport south of Patan, in Godawari. It lies below Mt. Phulchwoki (2715m), which is the highest peak in the Kathmandu valley. It’s an instant relief to be in a quieter place with cleaner air. Beyond that, the garden is a pleasant place to walk with many interesting specimens and layouts.

Some of the grounds are relatively wild and undeveloped, but most are organized into special gardens, such as a typical Nepali terrace garden, with a Nepali style stone tap at the top, a water garden, a fern garden, a Japanese garden, a rock garden, a lily garden, and a Conservation and Educational garden for students and scholars.

Posing for photos in the Japanese garden

A heavy load of greens

Family playing along the creek

Egret in the terrace area

School groups

Flowers and goats in the distance

The entry complex, with a pleasant, informal restaurant

Nepalese broom grass (Thysanolaena); flowers used to make brooms

Old vines in an arbor

Small stream running through the Botanical Garden

Ornamental cabbage?

One of many special display buildings

Embracing vInes

Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental bittersweet)

Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental bittersweet)

When Celastrus orbiculatus grows by itself, it forms thickets; when it is near a tree or shrub, the vines twist themselves around the trunk. The encircling vines have been known to strangle the host tree to death … All parts of the plant are poisonous. –Wikipedia, Celastrus orbiculatus

Oriental bittersweet continues to spread on Cape Cod, along with poison ivy, Virginia creeper, and English ivy. We now have kudzu, which used to be primarily in the American South.

Climate change is making poison ivy grow faster, bigger and meaner. Rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and higher temperatures are to poison ivy what garbage is for rats, dormant water is for mosquitoes and road kill is to buzzards. –Templeton (2013)

Vines are spreading everywhere–lianas in Panama and air potato in Texas, which grows 8 inches a day. New York is releasing thousands of harmful Asian weevils as the only way to combat the relentless mile-a-minute vine. It’s happening all over the planet. Whether we like it or not, vines are embracing us, our walls and fences, and our trees.

Dioscorea bulbifera (air potato)

Dioscorea bulbifera (air potato)

Vines are increasing in many places because of forest fragmentation and habitat destruction. They’re also benefitting globally from increased CO2 in the atmosphere and global warming. Since they sequester less carbon than the trees they replace do, they then contribute to the growth of CO2. It’s a vicious cycle. Trees, but also ferns and other plants are at risk.

If you’ve ever walked through the jungle, you’ll know it can be surprisingly dark down on the forest floor. You see trees soaring up all around. You’re creating a dense canopy overhead. And climbing toward that canopy, snaking up the trees are the vines.

Now it may seem peaceful in there, but what you’re witnessing in very slow motion is a fight to the death: a fight between the trees and their old rivals, the vines. It’s a battle as old as the forests themselves. Now, scientists say the vines are winning. –Science Friday, NPR

Toxicodendron radicans, poison ivy

Toxicodendron radicans, poison

Vines can be quite beautiful. Grape vineyards have developed on the Cape, to what I’d consider to be a good end. BougainvilleaCampsis (trumpet vine), Wisteria can be beautiful. Lathyrus odoratus (sweet pea) and Passiflora edulis (passionfruit) have delicious fruits. Even poison ivy provides forage for many animals and the fruits are popular with birds (who help spread it around).

Vines aren’t all bad, Maybe we should embrace them back.

But we may have to say good bye to the trees. And they were nice to have around, too.