Zoos must ensure safety protocols

Zoos must ensure safety protocols

Authorities at Bengaluru’s Bannerghatta National Park (BNP) have blamed human error for the mauling of a zoo employee by two lions. It appears that a staffer, who is new to the job opened the main cage gate rather than the squeeze gate. This error left the door open for the two lions to enter the animal holding house’s central passage, where the victim, Srikrishna and other employees were waiting to vaccinate the animals. Within seconds of entering, the lions attacked Srikrishna and pinned him down. Although BNP has blamed ‘human error’ for the horrific incident and the errant zoo staffer’s action was unintentional, it raises questions regarding the park’s safety procedures and protocols.

Why are contract employees with limited experience permitted to handle big cats and allowed into their enclosures? A newly hired, casual worker |cannot be blamed for opening the wrong door; he is after all still learning his work. Zoo authorities cannot escape responsibility for the incident as it was they who permitted a novice to make key decisions involving human safety inside the lion enclosure.

As shocking is the fact that BNP did not have a more efficient rescue system in place. Apparently, zoo personnel shouted, threw water and used rods to scare away the lions and it was at least 30 minutes before Srikrishna could be freed from the big cats’ grip. Wouldn’t tranquilisers have been a swifter and more effective way to deal with lions? Employees at zoos and national parks take enormous risks by working among lions, tigers and other predators. They put their lives on the line. Surely they deserve better protection.

Zoo animals attacking workers and visitors are not rare in India. Visitors, often inebriated or sometimes mentally ill, enter enclosures for big cats and end up getting mauled to death. Sometimes, visitors tease animals and pelt stones on them, provoking them to attack. In some zoos, authorities have taken precautionary steps like raising the height of fence around enclosures for big cats or deploying guards in the vicinity. Such steps are often a knee-jerk response to public outcry when attacks happen. When public pressure eases, the measures are patchily implemented and rules are bent. For instance, visitors are sometimes allowed to go on tiger safaris during feeding time for the animals, when this is forbidden in several parks. Respect for safety protocols and procedures, having alarm systems that work and round-the-clock response teams are necessary in all zoos and animal safaris. The terrible injuries suffered by Srikrishna should serve as a wake-up call.

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