With India’s last red kangaroo dying in captivity, Kolkata zoo shuts door on exotic species

Experts in the state zoo committee had gone so far as to advise Alipore zoo to cover the kangaroo enclosure to shield Joey from stress.

Written by Aniruddha Ghosal | Kolkata | Published:January 7, 2016 12:50 am

Joey was the last red kangaroo in captivity in India. With her death in October last year at Alipore Zoo in Kolkata, the fifth such death since 2011, the authorities have decided against keeping the pouched mammals in the future.

“We have decided against keeping kangaroos in the zoo in the near future. The kangaroo enclosure was a big attraction and drew hordes of tourists. But from the very beginning, we faced great difficulties,” a West Bengal Zoo Authority official said.

The official said that now the focus will be on housing species found in eastern and north eastern India and not the exotic species. “There may be issues with the environment and management of the exotic animals or suitability of the enclosure. There can be so many problems so we will avoid them,” the official added.

Native to Australia, the red kangaroo is the largest of all marsupials. It was in June 2011 that the Alipore Zoo brought two pairs of red kangaroos from Czech Republic. They were the first to be seen at the zoo where kangaroos had died out in 1976. Of the four new kangaroos, a one-and-a-half year old male died in August 2011, followed by another 2-year-old male in December the same. The two females followed in February 2012 and August 2012. Nine months before its death, one of them had given birth to Joey, which died last October aged four, almost 20 years short of the animal’s life expectancy in captivity. Of the five deaths, four have been due to chronic myopathy.

According to former zoo director K L Ghosh, under whose tenure Joey died, the animal “was suffering from chronic myopathy inherited from parents who had also died from it”. Chronic myopathy results in muscle degeneration, ultimately affecting the heart and lungs and leading to a painful death.

“Myopathy, affecting the cardiac region, is common to large herbivores and the trigger is often stressful situations, leading to panic in the animal, which produces vast quantities of adrenaline in the its body. This results in a change of aerobic metabolism to anaerobic metabolism that in turn produces lactic acid in the animal’s muscles. If this goes on indefinitely, this can in turn cause muscle damage and even sudden death,” said Dr Shamshul Ali, a veterinary surgeon with the Wildlife Trust of India.

According to the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Australia, “capture myopathy” is common in kangaroos in captivity and “is a stress induced and painful condition caused by excessive anaerobic muscular activity usually following exertion associated with capture or translocation.” Stress inducers can range from factors such as being separated from the herd to loud noises, which are alien to the neighborhood.

Experts in the state zoo committee had gone so far as to advise Alipore zoo to cover the kangaroo enclosure to shield Joey from stress.

These covers were removed in August 2014, in an effort to allow visitors a glimpse of the animal. But at Alipore Zoo, where the poor living conditions of the animals and unruly behaviour of the guests had led the central zoo authority to shut it down, Joey’s short life was far from pleasant.

A Zoo official, who didn’t wish to be named said, “The animal was simply not suited for a zoo like ours. The enclosures are close-by and it’s always very crowded and loud. It’s surrounded by roads with heavy traffic and overall it was always a very stressful situation for the animal”.

The official added that Joey, who had been sickly since birth, could never adapt to the zoo. “What with the constant cheering and shouting, along with the massive pollution levels, Joey was always sick. Moreover, kangaroos are suited to the dry, hot climate of Australia. In Kolkata’s humid summers and cool winters, she would often fall sick,” he addedAsis Samanta, the new director of Alipore zoo, declined to comment on Joey’s death.

Asis Samanta, the new director of Alipore zoo, declined to comment on Joey’s death.

Spread over 45 acres in Alipore, the zoo is one of the oldest in India and is now home to over 1,250 animals including rare and endangered ones.

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