The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), founded on 1 July 1916 by Government of India Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, as premier Indian organisation in zoological research and studies to promote the survey, exploration and research of the fauna in the country.
ZSI (zoology) as well as ASI (archaeology), BSI (botany), FSI (forests), FiSI (fisheries), GSI (geology), IIEE (ecology), NIO (oceanography), RGCCI (Census of India) and SI (cartography) are key national survey organisations of India.
Indian Gaur (Bos gaurus) the mascot of ZSI. Source: ZSI library painting collection.
The annals of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) reflect an eventful beginning for the Survey even before its formal birth and growth. The history of ZSI begins from the days of the Asiatic Society of Bengal founded by Sir William Jones on 15 January 1784. The Asiatic Society of Bengal was the mother institution not only to the Indian Museum (1875) but also to the institutions like the Zoological Survey of India and the Geological Survey of India. ZSI’s establishment was in fact a fulfillment of the dream of Sir William Jones, the founder of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, whose vision encompassed the entire range of human knowledge. The Asiatic Society had started collecting zoological and geological specimens since 1796 and set up a museum in 1814. Nathaniel Wallich, the first Superintendent of the “Museum of the Asiatic Society”, was in charge of the increasing collections of Geological and Zoological specimens; he had augmented the animal collections to the Zoological Galleries of the Museum.
The genesis of Zoological Survey of India was in 1875 with the opening of the Indian Museum. The new museum on its inception comprised only three sections: the Zoological, the Archaeological and the Geological. The zoological collections of the Asiatic Society of Bengal were formally handed over to the Board of Trustees of the Indian Museum in 1875.
Zoological Section of the Museum during the period from 1875 to 1916 steadily expanded, growing to the greatest collection of natural history in Asia. By the care and activity of the Curators of the Asiatic society of Bengal and the Superintendents of the Indian Museum, viz., John McClelland, Edward Blyth, John Anderson, James Wood-Mason, Alfred William Alcock and finally Thomas Nelson Annandale and his colleagues, the museum was richly endowed with a magnificent collection of animals, especially of the larger vertebrate groups. Further additions of both land and aquatic fauna to the valuable collections came through during several political and military expeditions, including a number of collections purchased, notably those of Francis Day of Indian Fishes, Lionel de Nicéville of butterflies, Dudgeon and Edward Ernest Green of moths, Jacob R. H. Neervoort van de Poll of beetles and Godwin Austen of mollusks.
The Zoological Gallery at the Asiatic society Museum under the care and charge of Nathaniel Wallich served the impetus for the formation of the Zoological Survey of India, which was later born as an independent organization on 1 July 1916. The excerpt from the ‘Constitution of the Zoological Survey of India’, released by the Government of India, Department of Education, Resolution no. 19-Museum, dated Shimla, 20 June 1916, states: “In March 1913, the Chairman of the Trustees of the Indian Museum forwarded a representation from the Superintendent of the Zoological and Anthropological Section of the Museum regarding the recognition of the Zoological Section as Zoological Survey. The Government of India, who had already under consideration the desirability of establishing on a sound basis a Zoological Survey of India, informed the Trustees of the Museum that they would be prepared to consider a scheme for such a survey on lines somewhat similar to the existing Botanical Survey of India and asked to furnish with the necessary details. The trustees accordingly submitted their proposals at the end of September 1913.”
Thomas Nelson Annandale, who joined the Indian museum as Deputy Superintendent (1904), and later as the Superintendent (1907), after years-old struggle, achieved his aim in establishing the Zoological survey of India, and became its founder Director and continued till his premature death in April 1924. Dr. Annandale was Honorary Secretary to the Trustees of the Indian Museum for several years; he was also the President of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1923.