On the outskirts of a bustling city near the sea coast was a zoo named Kananvan. It was famous all over the world for its magnificent white tigers, exotic birds and several other rare species.

However, there was one special quality that made the zoo different and about which no human knew. The animals of Kananvan practiced a democracy that is quite rare even in the so-called civilised world. A democracy in a zoo? I’ll explain.

The leader of the animals was Gajapati. He had been elected because he was wise, experienced and also because he was the only animal who was not inside a cage or an enclosure and, thus, enjoyed a degree of freedom.

Gajapati’s job was to ferry visitors around the zoo. Now, he was a considerate and effective leader. During his rounds he kept his ears and eyes open for any trouble.

And as soon as he his work was over, he would rush to the spot and tackle the situation, however sticky it might be. Whenever fights broke out between the animals, he would intervene.

Sometimes, when there was a shortage of food in any of the cages, Gajapati would go all out to help. To the vegetarian animals and birds, he would give from his share of food.

If they were meat eaters, he would ask some of the bigger carnivorous animals to share from their quota. All the animals of the zoo loved, admired and respected him.

Even though Gajapati was not personally unhappy in Kananvan, he was sometimes pained to see the suffering of the other animals in captivity. The majestic lions, tigers, leopards and panthers who should have been roaming like kings in the jungle, were cooped up in small enclosures.

Beautiful birds, instead of soaring in the blue expanse, were wasting away their lives in cramped cages. He knew what these gorgeous creatures wanted more than anything in the world: freedom, space to run and a chance to fly.

If only he could give the animals their freedom! But Gajapati knew there was no escape from Kananvan.

One day, at forenoon, the clouds started gathering. Slowly, the sky turned black and it began raining. Rain at this time of the year was not unusual, but this time Gajapati sensed something ominous.

The rain steadily increased in intensity, lashing the cages and the enclosures. The animals and the birds scurried for cover. Luckily it was a Monday – a holiday for the zoo and there were no visitors.

Gajapati’s mahout Ghasiram and the other humans who lived in the zoo premises had disappeared and taken shelter inside the canteen and office buildings. Trapped in the enclosures, the animals were left to face nature’s fury.

Soon there was no visibility. All Gajapati could see was an inky blackness, pierced by sharp streaks of lightening, and all he could hear was the sound and fury of the wind and the fearsome rumbling of thunder.

Gajapati was scared – not for himself, but for the animals. In his entire life he had never seen anything like this.

The rains continued for a whole day and night. Gajapati spent the entire time running from cage to cage and enclosure to enclosure. He gave instructions, shouted words of encouragement and tried his best to keep the morale of his friends high.

By next morning, the downpour had reduced to a drizzle. As he looked around, Gajapati saw destruction all over. The shed of the canteen had blown off, most of the trees had been uprooted, and several cages were badly damaged.

Most important, not a single human being was in sight.

As Gajapati moved around surveying the damage, he had an idea. The elephant swiftly moved towards the enclosure of the parakeets. There were six of them.

“Listen friends, what we are witnessing is a calamity. But I believe that behind every calamity there is an opportunity. God has given us a chance to achieve what we have always wanted,” said Gajapati.

“What is that Gajapati?” asked Neelu, the blue and red parakeet.

“Freedom! We can be free now.”

“How?” chorused the rest.

“Most of the cages are badly damaged. It wouldn’t be difficult for the animals and birds to get out. You spread out in the zoo and tell each animal to try and get out of its cage. Those who need help will be given assistance.

Once everyone is out they should assemble in front of the tigers’ enclosure. Next to the enclosure is a path that leads to the emergency exit.

From there I know of a road that will take us straight to the Sonika forest where we can live for the rest of our lives,” said Gajapati. It seemed a perfect idea.

The elephant then broke the cage of the birds and set them free so that they could perform their tasks. He then went to the tigers’ enclosure.

Two trees had fallen on it, damaging it in several places. It was easy for the five tigers and the elephant to bend the bars and get out.

Out strode the tigers along with Gajapati and helped rescue all the animals and birds in the zoo.

The langurs proved very handy in freeing the animals who were in the enclosures with moats around them. They swung from tree to tree lifting the animals on their backs and bringing them across. Some of the animals swam across the moat and were lifted up by Gajapati..

Under Gajapati’s able direction the rescue act was completed by afternoon. A few of the animals were injured. The elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions, tigers, leopards and buffaloes lifted them on their backs.

After all the animals had assembled in front of the tigers’ enclosure Gajapati made an announcement: “Friends, this is the first and last chance of getting what we have always longed for – freedom.

We should all go in a disciplined manner. If we meet the humans we simply ignore them unless they attack us. And there should be no fighting amongst us. The bigger animals should protect the smaller ones, who in turn should trust the bigger animals. Understood!”

Every one nodded and the great march to freedom began. They marched the entire afternoon, evening and night stopping several times to take rest.

The birds flew ahead to check for the presence of humans. On getting any such warning Gajapati would immediately order a detour.

The birds also carried tales of how the humans were behaving in this hour of crisis. Food was scarce and sometimes it was brought in trucks or dropped from helicopters. The humans were looting trucks. And when packets were dropped down, they were fighting for them hitting, kicking and even killing each other.

“They call us wild and declare that we are savages. I sometimes wonder who should feel insulted when they attempt to abuse a man by calling him an animal. The man or the animal?” Gajapati thought, as he led his creatures to freedom.

After more than 18 hours the animals reached Sonika forest. It was not inhabited except for some birds and a few animals who had already been contacted by the birds of Kananvan.

Animals from the zoo: The Great Escape - A story for kids

By the time Gajapati reached with his troupe the animals and birds of Sonika were ready to welcome them.

Later, after the hungry had been fed and the injured attended, Gajapati assembled all of them and said, “Friends, we have at last won our freedom. We should never misuse it. We should guard it zealously. And the only way we can do it is if we remain united and take care of each other’s interests.

By being united we turned a calamity into an opportunity. Now, by fighting amongst ourselves we should not destroy our freedom,” concluded Gajapati, raising his trunk to the heavens.

“Long live Gajapati, long live freedom,” chanted the animals and birds, wagging their tales and flapping their wings.