Safety measures at zoo come under scrutiny

Safety measures at the Delhi Zoo and response by its staff in an emergency have come under focus following an incident on Tuesday in which a 20-year-old youth was mauled to death by a white tiger.

Several visitors highlighted an ultimately inefficient response by the zoo staff, claiming that neither did authorities arrive immediately after Maqsood fell into the moat, nor were they appropriately equipped when they finally reached the scene.

“They were armed with sticks and focused more on trying to keep other visitors away from the enclosure instead of helping the victim,” alleged eyewitness Shiv Kumar. “They did not even have tranquiliser guns when they arrived. This shows how prepared they were,” he added.

Visitors who witnessed the incident also claimed that Maqsood “slipped” into the dry moat while trying to cross over the stand-off barrier and said the incident proved that the enclosure was unsafe.

But zoo authorities have defended themselves saying they can do little when a “man jumps in front of a wild animal”.

The two-foot high steel stand-off barrier runs parallel to a thick layer of plants a metre inside and then a short cemented wall forms the final barrier before the moat begins. While it is very much possible for a visitor to fall inside on crossing the stand-off barrier, it appears practically impossible for the tiger to climb out.

All enclosures safe

“All the enclosures of National Zoological Park are absolutely safe. No visitor can reach the moat wall of the enclosure without crossing the stand-off barrier. This visitor crossed the stand-off barrier and ultimately jumped into the enclosure which led to his death by the tiger,” said zoo director Amitabh Agnihotri in an official statement. He claimed that the enclosures have been designed as per the standards laid down by the Central Zoo Authority.

Officials also claimed that Maqsood had already crossed the stand-off barrier three-four times before he finally fell in the moat. The victim had been repeatedly warned by a security guard before he was forced to shift his focus to some schoolchildren who had arrived to see the tiger, said another zoo official.

The response timing too has been defended with officials claiming that soon after Maqsood fell in the moat, a guard, Praveen, posted there sounded an alarm and collected his supervisor and other zoo staff by sending wireless SOS messages.

“We cannot give the guards tranquiliser weapons which are kept at the zoo hospital and are licensed. The youth had died before the guns could be brought there. We also were about to bring crackers to shoo the tiger away but he had already returned to his enclosure soon after killing the youth,” Riaz Ahmed Khan, the zoo curator.

Entry to the zoo, meanwhile, was practically closed for new visitors soon after the incident even though authorities insisted that ticket counters were open. Those already inside the zoo were asked to leave and the area where the incident took place was cleared. The zoo will be open at its usual timing on Wednesday though, said an official. 

No such history

Born at the Delhi Zoo on July 21, 2007 to Laxman and Yamuna, 11 foot-long Vijay is among six white tigers, including four females, at this zoo.

“Three each are kept in two different enclosures and are let loose in the moat at different times. Vijay was allotted the morning shift from 9.30 am to 1 pm,” said Khan. After the incident, Vijay was kept separate from the other wild cats and zoo doctors examined him.Vijay, meanwhile, was revealed never to have indulged in exceptional violent behaviour in the past. His daily diet consists of 10 kilos of buffalo meat on an average.

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