Hyderabad: Zoo mates falling prey to pollution

HYDERABAD: It was in the run-up to the Bakrid festival when the city zoo lost six black bucks last November within five days. The veterinary doctors at the zoo were surprised that the animals had died due to foot and mouth disease, which is caused by a virus that had been eradicated from Andhra Pradesh many years ago. And that’s when they realised how the virus had gained entry into the zoo: illegal slaughter houses that had mushroomed around the zoo unchecked had brought cattle and sheep from neighbouring states for the festival. Officials said the epidemic was contained and thus other animals saved.

Nevertheless, of the 24 animal deaths at the Nehru Zoological Park in the last one year, 18 have died in the last three months alone. Two animals, a fox and a mouse deer, died last week. But these deaths were not due to the virus. The fox was found dead in his burrow with maggot wounds and the mouse deer died due to a rare urine retention illness.

Clearly, there are more factors leading to deaths in the zoo than just the deadly virus. When founded in 1965, the 300-acre zoo was located on the city outskirts and its animals lived in mint fresh environs. If slaughter houses around it are making unwanted donations of the foot and mouth disease virus that travels into zoo at the speed of 60 km/hour, the vehicles moving inside the zoo are ensuring a rise in pollution levels as well. In addition, many animals are reaching their longevity and their deaths are natural. In some cases, however, the animals are lonely, having been couriered from other zoos to Hyderabad, alone. And there is a crunch in the number of animal keepers, with just about 57 animal keepers for the 1,390 animals living in the zoo.

But to start with, it is pollution that is the zoo’s biggest problem. If the road outside it has become busier, dirtier than ever, with it now leading to the Shamshabad airport, the number of vehicles moving inside the zoo have also shot up, despite the entry for vehicles priced at Rs 500. Zoo authorities say that 650 vehicles enter the zoo on ‘peak days’ such as holidays and weekends. On regular days, around 300 vehicles move around the zoo premises.

“The noise pollution because of vehicles is definitely having an impact on the animals who are not used to this kind of atmosphere. Especially primates and herbivores are very sensitive,” said Farida Tampal, state director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Pollution, both noise and air, may not kill animals but lowers their resistance, say experts. Tampal says that a suggestion was made to the zoo to operate more battery operated vehicles and restrict the entry of vehicles further. Given that the zoo earns an annual revenue of Rs 5 crore from its visitors, the suggestion to restrict entry of vehicles could be difficult to accept. After all, the zoo spends a lot too, Rs 11 lakh alone on the diet of the animals every month.

“I would not say that the zoo officials are negligent. But the zoo was once in an isolated place and now the traffic has compounded,” said Vasanti Wadi, secretary, People for Animals. Wadi goes on to point out another crucial issue— loneliness— that is casting a shadow on the animal’s longevity. “There are a few animals living alone. Every animal requires company,” she said, questioning why these animals were brought alone from other zoos.

Zoo officials say that acquiring animals for the zoo is a big problem, cumbersome too. “We got a giraffe from Delhi but a single one. What is the fate (of the animal),” wonders Dr M Navin Kumar, consultant with the Hyderabad zoo and also its former deputy director. The enclosures are such that two different kind of animals cannot be accommodated in one. Dr Kumar, who is also on the evaluation team of the Central Zoo Authority, says that zoos should always acquire an animal with its compatible breeding pair, which does not always happen.

Objectively speaking, the number of deaths even in the financial year 2008-09 were also 20 and this year the number has shot only by four. But that, say experts, is not the point. The fact that deaths have been clustered in a quarter is reason for concern. “There is a need for more animal keepers as well. We had 120 animal keepers in the 1980s but now we don’t even have half that number for 150 animal enclosures,” said an animal keeper at the zoo.

Experts say that the zoo’s mortality rate is the same as that of other zoological parks but admit its time its surrounding environment was cleaned to make the zoo livable for its animals.

From TOI

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