Between 2016 and 2017, the National Zoological Park in Delhi lost at least 325 animals, reports accessed by TOI show. If this wasn’t bad enough, its staff has been accused of fudging records and bringing in “replacements” from the wild to cover up the deaths.
Two confidential reports of the Central Zoo Authority, submitted to the environment ministry, have revealed these shocking details, bringing into focus how animals haven’t been taken care of properly at their “second home”. Experts are aghast at the zoo authorities allegedly “hunting” animals — varying from monitor lizards, Red sand boas, Common sand boas, rat snakes, civets and tortoises — and confining them to the enclosures.
Two officials allegedly illegally captured five monitor lizards in 2017 — two from within the zoo and three from outside — and kept them in the cell earmarked for the species in beat number 7. It’s alleged that while zoo records showed eight monitor lizards, ration was being requisitioned for only five.
“Documentary evidence pertaining to annual inventory report of NZP, diet requisition for animals by the animal section, ration supply by the store section and temperature and humidity records register corroborates the fact that there were no monitor lizards in beat number 7 since January 2, 2017.
The monitor lizards that appeared in the enclosure on January 28 are not part of the zoo population of the animal and have been brought from the outside (sic),” the report stated.
“It is a fact that four monitor lizards died on February 1, 2, 11and 15, 2017. These animals are the animals caught by zoo staff, as stated by them in a video recording also,” the report added, referring to a video recording CZA had obtained.
According to the report, not just the count of monitor lizards, their sexes — generally recorded in three categories, male, female and unsexed — were also inconsistent. Neo-natal and juvenile animals are classified as “unsexed” until they attain maturity, which is generally between 2 and 3 years for monitor lizards. “The contradiction of the scientific fact, wherein the monitor lizards of NZP do not attain maturity even after six years of birth, also points towards the mala fide intention of the NZP authorities and manipulation of records…” it stated.
The population of Small Indian civet had also gone down to a single male and NZP was in need of females for breeding: so, zoo staff allegedly captured two female civets that roamed in the wild, outside enclosures but on the zoo premises, using rat traps. Both civets were quarantined at the zoo hospital immediately. A quarantine is usually needed when a newly arrived animal is to be made part of the zoo population.
During investigation, the annual inventory report revealed that two female Small Indian civets were acquired in 2016-17. As per the wildlife protection Act, the zoo can’t acquire any wild animal listed under Schedule I and II without the prior approval of CZA. No such approval was taken, though. Collecting animals from the wild also goes against the national zoo policy.
The CZA investigating team, comprising VC Mathur of National Tiger Conservation Authority and DN Singh, member secretary, CZA, concluded that zoo staff involved in the illegal capture of these animals could be charged with hunting under Section 2 (16) (b) of the wildlife protection Act. The report added that the quarantine of these two animals was not done properly, risking the health of others.
During quarantine, an examination of stool, urine, blood and skin scrapings is to be carried out. No such tests were done for the civets and they were only administered de-worming medication.
The investigation was launched after a complaint was received from Ajay Dubey, founder member and secretary of Prayatna, an environmental action group that recently accessed these reports through an RTI query.
CZA is also investigating the annual death count. While 91 animals have been reported dead this year, CZA had said that only 75 postmortem records were presented to it and the beat register had nearly 50 pages missing. Renu Singh, the Delhi zoo director who took charge in May 2017, said she was not aware of discrepancies that took place before she was appointed. However, she maintained that the current death count was accurate.
“We have checked it twice and the figure is accurate. Some post-mortem reports are missing, but they were with CZA and we had not received them back. We are also collecting the pages of the beat register that are reportedly missing and will be submitted soon,” Singh said.