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Of beasts, men, and the Central Zoo Authority

Saturday, 12 November 2005 - 11:27pm IST
A cash-strapped authority, inept staff, and visitors that don't leave after dark has led to many zoos closing down and the animals being sent to 'rescue centres'.

KOLKATA: Though dusk has fallen at the Kolkata Zoo and it's time to close the gates, the sprawling 45 acres are still abuzz with human chatter. A single attendant enters the zoo director's room to complain that two animals still have not been locked in, since the only two attendants on duty fought among themselves.


But beastly tales are not just emerging from the Kolkata zoo. According to the CZA, there are several zoos across the country, especially in Orissa, and almost all in Rajasthan, except the Jaipur zoo, that have been told to close down and move their animals to rescue centres due to a lack of adequate infrastructure.


Is this a lack of animal instinct? Perhaps because the Zoological Gardens at Alipore in Kolkata is in danger of being derecognised unless it abides by the guidelines of the Central Zoo Authority (CZA).


For long, visitors and animal-lovers to one of the oldest zoos in the country have complained about a lack of adequate facilities for the upkeep of animals. There have been reports of a rare rhino dying of an age-related illness due to improper medical attention last year. The zoo does not even have a full-time curator.


The CZA, set up in 1992 under the Wildlife Protection Act, has been empowered to confer recognition tags on zoos in the country. Before 1992, there was no regulatory authority to take to task the misdeeds committed upon the hapless, caged animals.


When the CZA invited applications in 1992, around 420 zoos applied for recognition. Though 347 applications were found valid, that is, perceived as fulfilling the definition of a zoo, and could come under the aegis of the CZA, the ground realities defeated the initiative. However, only 164 among these received the green signal to carry on exhibiting the animals. Around 183 were refused recognition after the evaluation process, and 92 of these were told to close down outright.


Today, among those still functioning, several are unable to meet CZA stipulations. These diktats relate to veterinary facilities, quarantine reports, adherence to boundary wall and green and open area stipulations etc.


Also, full-time curators are a must-have, but there seems to be a marked absence of such an official in many. A zoo is given recognition for a period ranging from 1-5 years. On expiry of the stipulated period, the zoo has to apply afresh. If a zoo fails to meet any of the guidelines, the CZA gives it time to rectify matters, failing which it is in danger of being derecognised. The CZA will meet in December to decide anew on the fate of the country's zoos.


CZA member secretary B.R. Sharma told DNA: "Overall, many zoos did not develop in a planned manner. They were mainly the mini zoos and deer parks that continued to breed animals without a thought for space. This led to overpopulation and congestion." "It may be recalled, prior to 1992, there were no norms to adhere to," added Sharma.


A CZA team will visit the Kolkata Zoo from November 14-16 and draft a report subsequently. However, S K Chaudhuri, the director, plays down the de-recognition threat as "mere reports."


"The main problem here is lack of space," stresses Chaudhuri. "When the zoo was built in 1875, Alipore fell in the outskirts of the city. Today, it is almost within the heart of the city. Thus, there is no way to expand," says Chaudhuri.


Overturning charges of neglect, Chaudhuri says the zoo is paying special attention to the conservation of animals included in Schedule I and II of the Wildlife Protection Act.


Working to this effect, it has also undertaken, says Chaudhuri, a planned breeding project of the brow-antlered deer, a species found in the wild only in Manipur. Twenty-three such deer are present at the Alipore zoo.




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