Blame game over tiger cub deaths in zoo

Blame game over tiger cub deaths in zoo

It is brickbats and bouquets for the Nandankanan Zoological Park on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. The authorities were elated with record 49,682 footfalls on the New Year’s Day, the highest in the park’s 51-year-old history, indicating that it is a favourite place among tourists and other people.

The park also has been in the news for wrong reasons. Animal activists are
baying for blood of the park  officials for their callousness. The reason behind the activists’ anger is the series of incidents and mishaps in the zoo. 

“The mishaps have certainly dented the zoo’s reputation and the authorities must act fast to address their weaknesses before its too late”, insists Jiban Pradip Das, animal rights activist and Odisha unit chief of People for Animals, the animal protection group.

Activists allege that there is mismanagement and lack of trained manpower to deal with crises in the zoo. If they had right  kind of people, the death of new born tiger cubs could have been avoided. “Neither the zoo has any facility to provide emergency treatment to seriously ill animals nor has it specialist doctors to treat them. Ordinary veterinary doctors are appointed in the zoo who do not have the expertise to deal with emergencies”, rued  Das. “The tiger cubs would have
survived had they received proper medical attention and constant monitoring by the zoo authorities,” Das said.

Five tiger cubs born in the middle of November died three days later. The cubs, including one that was white, were born from the mating of Royal Bengal tiger pair Roshan and Priyanka. The zoo authorities insist that the cubs died
because of their ‘mother’s neglect’, he said. The population of tigers in the zoo, located on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, is 24 of which 10 are white. The zoo, spread over an area of 425 hectares, houses over 1,200 wild animals and offers a white tiger safari, the first of its kind in the world.

The zoo authorities have also been charged with not taking the expert advice from outside, which is essential to run a zoo. “For the benefit of the zoo, there is a need for regular interaction with experts from outside. But the authorities’ reluctance to do so gives rise to an impression that they (the zoo officials) want to cover up their weaknesses”, Das alleged.

The growing dissatisfaction among lower level employees of the zoo has also been allegedly playing a part in the mism­a­nagement of the zoo. Majority of them are lowly paid, resulting in some of them becoming careless while discharging their duties. A case in point was an incident inside the zoo just days before the death of the tiger cubs. The horrified visitors had to scurry for cover as an adult tiger had
escaped from its enclosure and was roaming freely in the zoo.  The big cat had walked out of the enclosure as the empl­oyee had forgotten to lock it after feeding the animal!  The  zoo officials, on the other hand, have a completely different picture to present while denying these charges.

According to them, the zoo is not having specialists as they are not available. According to them, no university or institute offers specialised courses to veterinary doctors to deal with zoo animals, which are mostly brought from wild.  However, the Central Zoo Authority conducts a one-year training programme for zoo doctors and veterinary staff of the zoo do attend the programme, claimed the
officials.

The zoo has a full-fledged hospital with an intensive care unit. Besides, the zoo also uses the lab and other facilities of Bhubaneswar-based government-run Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT) which is having a big veterinary branch. “We pay OUAT Rs 3 lakh every year to develop and maintain their lab,” said Nandankanan Director Dr Sudarsan Panda.

While denying the activists’ charge, Panda insisted that the advice and suggestions of retired forest officials having experience in zoo management were
being regularly sought. He claimed that Nandankanan is the only zoo in the country which had two exclusive committees-- a technical committee and another health committee -- for better management of the zoo. While the technical committee consists of experienced retired officials and experts, senior veterinary doctors from OUAT are the members of the health committee.

On the recent death of tiger cubs which had led to a nationwide uproar by animal rights activists, the zoo officials maintai­ned that the incident was “blown out of proportion” by a section of the media and animal rights groups and individuals. “That was certainly an unfortunate incident and we all are hurt and disturbed by the development. But this type of mishaps do occur in zoos across the globe. The incident was not an isolated case”, insisted Panda. In the past, 19 times cubs had died in the zoo.

After the controversy triggered by the tiger cub deaths, the state forest department and the Nandankanan authorities have already installed close circuit television cameras in the tiger enclosures to record the delivery of tiger cubs.  If the zoo officials are to be believed, not only the popularity of Nandankanan is growing by every passing year, the Odisha zoo has also turned into a money spinning
institution.

The zoo earned Rs 5. 27 crore during last fiscal --the highest among all the zoos in the country. “This year we hope to earn Rs 5.5 crore. We will soon be a financially independent ”, said Panda who also heads Zoo Directors’ Association of India, an umbrella organisation of chiefs of all the 193 small and medium and five big zoos and zoological parks in the country.

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