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SOS Rhino : In the News : Cages score a zero in zoo norms

Cages score a zero in zoo norms

The Telegraph
Calcutta, India
Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A rare rhino recently succumbed to age-induced illness, without proper medical redress, and was exhibited till the last day it lived. Now, a baboon is ailing as well, plagued by severe respiratory distress, and could well meet with the same hapless fate.

Not just basic hygiene, when it comes to meeting stipulations laid down by the Central Zoo Authority (CZA), be it in the realm of conservation or education, the Zoological Gardens, Alipore, falls way short of pass marks.

And even as the Damocles' sword of de-recognition hangs over its head and the government makes noises about relocation, precious little has been done on the current campus to inspire confidence.

“The primary objective of operating any zoo shall be the conservation of wildlife and no zoo shall take up any activity that is inconsistent with the objective” reads the opening clause of the CZA strictures for granting recognition to any zoo in the country.

This focal objective is squarely defeated at Alipore zoo, feels animal habitat scholar Subhabrata Ghosh. “It has no meaningful contribution towards conservation, either in the wild or in captivity, and is impeded by its central location,” stresses Ghosh.

He has inspected zoos around the world for Zoocheck Canada, under the aegis of a programme supported by city-based NGO Compassionate Crusaders’ Trust.

“We have been working to raise awareness among the 19 lakh-odd visitors to the zoo every year through better-informed signage, discourses on radio and TV and observing the Animal Fortnight Week. An IT-enabled awareness tool is also being developed,” counters S.K. Chaudhuri, director, Zoological Gardens, Alipore.

Another CZA rider for recognition reads: “The zoo operators shall endeavour to simulate the conditions of the natural habitat of the animal in the enclosures as closely as possible.”

This is followed more in the breach at Alipore zoo, opines Purnima Toolsidass, honorary secretary, People for Animals (PFA). “For instance, the caged cats have concrete as canopy instead of open sky and concrete underfoot, where there should have been grass.”

A study on ‘Large carnivores in captivity’ conducted by Georgia Mason and Ros Cleubb of the department of zoology, Oxford University, clearly establishes that the big cats don’t take kindly to being caged. “It's a torture for them to be restrained in this manner with their natural hunting instincts curbed, and doesn’t serve any conservation purpose,” stresses Debasis Chakrabarti, PFA managing trustee.

The animal welfare NGO had challenged the concept of an urban zoo in Calcutta High Court through a public interest litigation (writ application no. 1950) in 1998, with a detailed list of violations.

While there was a plethora of suggestions for long-term improvement of conditions (see graphic), the immediate fire-fighting measures advocated included open-air enclosures for animals, cleansing the waterbodies to bring back the migratory birds and creating an animal-friendly ecosystem on campus.

Chaudhuri contends that work on moated open-air enclosures has made some headway, with two for tigers and one each for bears, Indian lions, elephants, monkeys and chimpanzees already done.

“But if we convert all the cages into open-air enclosures, we will have to drastically reduce the number of exhibits, which in turn, will squeeze footfall and revenue,” he contends.

Against an annual income of around Rs 2 crore, the zoo incurs recurring expenditure of nearly Rs 4 crore, with the deficit met by the state’s non-plan budget. So, the CZA specification that each zoo shall be closed to visitors at least once a week also goes for a six in the busy winter window.

“De-recognition is acceptable only as a prelude to closure of a badly-run zoo. At the same time, the Calcutta zoo authorities shouldn’t think de-recognition makes them immune to any kind of supervision or corrective measure,” cautions Chakrabarti.

The PFA feels the authorities should be careful that “the prevailing chaos isn’t magnified on a larger premises”, post-relocation to an open-air arena.

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