BBP's big summer challenge

BBP's big summer challenge

BBP's big summer challenge

Death in the past had spread its fatal tentacles in multiple forms at the Bannerghatta Biological Park (BB): Foot and mouth disease, tuberculosis, old age… But a far more immediate threat looms large for the animals there: A water crisis so acute that this summer could push them dangerously over the brink!

A deadly outbreak of tuberculosis had killed dozens of bears at the Rescue Centre. Apparent old age and a ban on captive breeding continue to feed a sharp fall in rescued animal numbers inside the zoo proper. But the water shortage could have a far more devastating effect, if the Park does not get an urgent injection of water from multiple sources.

The warning signs are all over the place. Hippos struggling in enclosures thirsting for water that requires to be changed every day; birds hovering on stagnant pools; lakes and pools drying up fast. “The borewells and all our tanks are drying. This year, there has been no rainfall at all. This summer, we may have a very big problem,” warns BBP Executive Director Range Gowda. 

Private tankers

Last summer, BBP had barely managed with private tankers and its network of inter-connected tanks. “This entire stretch is a rocky area. Our efforts to dig more borewells haven’t yielded any water. Even on Friday, we dug two wells but in vain,” laments Gowda. For the seven hippos housed in the BBP zoo, staying submerged in fresh water is a matter of survival. For, exposure to open air would spark formation of skin blisters, mosquito bites, and wounds that wouldn’t heal in a hurry.

Hard pressed for water to clean rescue centre cages, feed the range of animals including leopards and elephants, BBP had proposed a Rs 200 crore project to bring Cauvery water to the Park. But the State government is unlikely to accede to this demand, say inside sources. Private tankers would have to be the only saviour yet again, even if that comes with its own high costs and risks.

If water shortage remains the biggest threat, the serious lack of experienced veterinarians could put the health of animals in jeopardy in the long run. Here’s what a long-time staffer at BBP says on condition of anonymity, “There are no permanent employees, only vets on contract come here for six months or one year. You need at least two years to understand the animals. Why can’t they post veterinarians on a five-year bond here?”

Inexperienced vets

Massive outbreaks of tuberculosis, foot and mouth disease and other ailments have injected a sense of urgency for the requirement of trained and experienced veterinarians. From 2012 till date, as many as 32 sloth bears have died due to tuberculosis and other infections at the Bear Rescue Centre run by the NGO, Wildlife SOS. In 2010, Salmonella, a bacterial infection caused by consumption of infected chicken, had killed two adult tigresses and a three-month old cub.
In September 2013, the Herbivorous Safari was closed for seven weeks due to outbreak of the Foot and Mouth Disease has broken out. On a single day, the disease had claimed the lives of three spotted deer and one neelgai. The spectre of death continues, with a white tiger, Arya falling prey to an infection on Saturday.   

Inadequate animal enclosures, poor numbers and variety of species, and lack of a vibrant zoo culture has put BBP on the backfoot, despite its enormous potential. Tourists are often heard complaining about the lack of animals in enclosures, compared to the Mysore zoo. But BBP officials say the Central Zoo Authority is against haphazard expansion.

Gowda explains, “CZA requires that whatever numbers we have now should be well exhibited. But BBP is still new, about 25 years old, compared to the Mysue zoo which is over a century old.”

Animal acquisitions

Mysore zoo was also lucky to be launched at a time when rules were liberal to acquire animals from other zoos in and outside the country. “It is no longer so. We wanted to get zebras from Europe, African lions and elands, a deer species from Germany. Despite CZA approvals, we have been struggling for over an year. The Department of Foreign Trade has to give its approval now,” informs the BBP official.

Exchange of animals with other zoos is an option. But reeling under a shortage of animals, BBP now has nothing to give back. The other alternative of outright purchase of new species has been withdrawn. BBP had expressed its desire to get a chimpanzee, but that has predictably hit a non-availability wall. However, the Park is confident of adding at least 10 more species over the next six months. On the agenda are pig-tailed macaques, spectacle monkeys and black bucks.

BBP houses a total of 1,294 animals of 90 species, including birds. Generating big interest among the visitors are the 39 tigers and 29 lions, all fed and well kept inside the safari areas. The high-priced safaris have brought in the bulk of the revenue for BBP. To prevent another outbreak of the foot and mouth disease among these safari animals, BBP has been vaccinating them through a combination of throw darting (for spot deers) and oral medication.

Despite vaccinations and other precautions, animals could contract myriad diseases. As veterinarians point out, animals seldom show symptoms until the end is near. Recently, a lion showed disease symptoms for a week and died. Fatalities could mount in the rescue centres, where the number of aged animals is high. If urgent steps are not underway, the impending water crisis could also prove fatal.

Yet, the BBP officials see hope in the horizon. As the Park’s Executive Director maintains, a Panther safari, six new animal enclosures and a master plan could reshape the entire Park. But that is for the future. How distant it is would depend on how smartly BBP can tide over the next big water crisis this summer!

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