by Amit Roy
LORD SWRAJ PAUL is to be conferred London Zoo’s highest honour in recognition of his support for the institution.
London Zoo is a place with many memories for the 87-year-old chairman of the Caparo group. It is where his fouryear-old daughter Ambika found much happiness in the closing days of her life in the 1960s and where his late son Angad got married in 2004.
It is also where every July, Lord Paul holds a tea party to remember Ambika and Angad for several hundred of his relatives, friends and business associates.
Dominic Jermey, the zoo’s director general, was among the guests last year.
Now Lord Paul is to be made an honorary fellow of the zoo, joining a select band of distinguished personalities such as the Duke of Edinburgh and Sir David Attenborough who were similarly honoured in in 1977 and 1998 respectively.
“Pleasantly surprised – especially (considering) the company I am in,” he told Eastern Eye.
He had not expected such a letter from Sir John Beddington, president of the Zoological
Society of London, which runs the zoo, making the offer.
“I am delighted to inform you that the Council of the Zoological Society of London would like to award you its highest honour, ZSL honorary fellowship, in acknowledgement of your exceptional commitment to ZSL London over the past 30 years,” the letter said.
“As it looks forward towards its third century, ZSL would like to formally recognise your extraordinary commitment and the ongoing support of you and your family, which enables ZSL to inspire, empower and inform people through our zoos.”
The award ceremony is expected to take place on June 11.
Lord Paul rescued London Zoo when it was facing bankruptcy in 1989.
“It was going to close,” he recalled. “I wrote to them asking, ‘What is your plan in case I am able to help?’ They contacted me after a year.” His donation of £1 million was the lifeline the zoo needed.
Lord Paul remembers his last days with Ambika, who was being treated for leukaemia.
“When she was in remission, we had wonderful times there.”
He also hosted a lunch at the zoo for the American senator Ted Kennedy and his children.
“That was in 2000. His father (Joseph Kennedy) had been the American ambassador
to Britain (1937-40). He opened part of the zoo when he took along his sons Ted and Robert.”
Commending Swraj’s “generosity and commitment”, the zoo’s fundraising director James Wren said: “Through the Ambika Paul Foundation, ZSL has received a number of invaluable gifts that have enabled ZSL to make extraordinary change, and conduct our vital work for wildlife.”
Over the years, Lord Paul has picked up a lot of knowledge about animal welfare, both about their veterinary care and also how the visiting public needs to be kept safe from either picking up infections or passing them on.
When the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee visited Lord Paul in London in July 2015, she asked him to help modernise the zoo in Kolkata, where he had started his business career before coming to the UK to seek medical treatment for Ambika in 1965.
He took Banerjee’s entire delegation, including finance minister Amit Mitra and businessman Harshavardhan Neotia, on a guided tour of the zoo.
However, the state government in West Bengal is yet to follow up by submitting specific requests for his help, which Lord Paul said he was more than willing to give. One idea, for example, was to organise exchange of animal experts between the London and Kolkata zoos. There is also a suggestion Lord Paul may help with the modernisation of sections
of London Zoo, such as the aviary.