The city was established in the 17th century by the British, who developed it into a major urban centre and naval base. By the 20th century, it had become an important administrative centre, as the capital of the Madras Presidency.
The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology (MCBT) is a reptile zoo and herpetology research station, located in Chennai, India. The centre is both a registered trust and a recognized zoo under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and is India's leading institution for herpeto-faunal conservation, research and education. The bank is the first crocodile breeding centre in Asia. It was established with the aim of saving three Indian endangered species of crocodile—the marsh or mugger crocodile, the saltwater crocodile, and the gharial, which at the time of founding of the trust were all nearing extinction. The centre is the biggest crocodile sanctuary in India. It covers 8.5 acres (3.4 ha) and had over 450,000 visitors in 2007. The centre has one of the world's largest collections of crocodiles and alligators and has bred 5,000 crocodiles and alligators representing 14 of the 23 existing species, including the three crocodile species, all considered endangered, that are native to India. As of 2011, the CrocBank has a total of 2,483 animals, including 14 species of crocodiles, 10 species of turtles, 3 species of snakes, and 1 species of lizard.
It has a built-up area of 1,280,000 sq ft (119,000 m2). with centralised air-conditioning and an independent power supply. The park provides state-of-the-art network connectivity with direct satellite uplink.