Zoo becomes a death trap

The Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) is one of the largest zoos in the State in terms of variety and number of animals.

It houses over 1,435 animals of 76 species, including mammals and reptiles. However, the medical facility at the zoo is not up to the mark and there is a dearth of veterinary doctors. Result: Death of many inmates.

Sharath, a safari tiger aged about two, was suffering from acute intestinal infection. But the wildlife veterinarian at the Park could not diagnose it. The tiger endured the pain for three months and also suffered from diarrhoea and kidney-related problems. Despite being administered a combination of antibiotics, it never recovered.

The wildlife vets had to depend on a private hospital to conduct an ultrasound scan on Sharath. Though initially private doctors were reluctant to share their expensive scanning machines meant for humans, the vets managed to bring it to the park and conducted the scan. Despite efforts, the tiger died on July 20, exposing the severe lack of facilities at the park.

In September 2010, BBP was again in the news following the death of safari tigers due to salmonella infection. The park lost three tigers - Divya, Minchu (both four years old) and a three-month-old cub to the infection. They suffered from diarrhoea and vomiting, after they were fed infected chicken. Eighteen other tigers were also infected with the same bacteria. 

BBP came under severe criticism for inaction and veterinarians from other zoos were called in to help treat the animals. Sources in the park admitted that lack of facilities and late realisation of the outbreak of the infection were the reasons for losing the tigers.

Initially, the authorities did not realise the gravity of the situation, and later delayed treatment, they added.

At present, there are 48 lions and two tigers at the Rescue Centre. The safari has 41 tigers, seven white tigers and 28 lions. 

After the tigers, it is now the turn of sloth bears. Housed at the Bear Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BRRC), the bears have been diagnosed with suspected tuberculosis, apparently contracted from humans. 

About 10 out of the 100-odd bears are down with the Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB), which is mainly found among humans infected with TB.  Since 2010, BRRC has lost nine bears. Recently, it lost two more to MTB. BRRC, managed by an NGO - Wildlife SOS - is unable to diagnose the disease as there are no test kits standardised for bears in the country.

Dr Arun A Sha, wildlife veterinarian, said the only symptom shown by the bears was erratic food habit. There are a couple of bears having frequent convulsion attacks at the centre. BRRC has approached various organisations and research centres to help them diagnose and treat the ailing bears.

At present, BBP has only one designated wildlife veterinarian at the additional director level and two junior vets appointed on contract basis. Even the medical facility, in terms of infrastructure, is not up to the mark. 

Although the veterinary hospital has facilities like X-ray machines and incubators, critical equipment like ultrasound scanning machines are yet to be installed. There were plans to set up a hi-tech veterinary hospital at a cost of Rs 1.2 crore. 

Without a laboratory, every time an animal dies in the park, the visceral samples are sent to the Institute of Animal Health and Veterinary Biologicals located in Hebbal.

The hi-tech hospital also had plans of setting up an upgraded laboratory facility within its premises. This project was proposed by one of the members of the Zoo Authority of Karnataka. But after his retirement, the project hasn’t seen the light of day.

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