Built in 1861, the Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udhyan and Zoo at Byculla in central Mumbai (formerly Victoria Gardens), is one of the oldest zoos in the country. Of late, however, animals at the zoo are facing a survival challenge.
As per records procured from the zoo authorities, 39 mammals, 22 birds and 10 reptiles died at the zoo in 2010-11. In the following two years, the total number of deaths were 34 and 63. Up to August 2014, the number of mammals and reptiles at the zoo have remained the same since 2012-13 at 147 and 32 respectively, but around 61 birds have died in the first six months itself.
According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a report compiled by the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) says more than 150 animals and birds died at the zoo during a 12-month period in 2010-11. It says the mortality rate (12.10 per cent) is higher than any other zoo in the country.
While there is a separate enclosure to treat ailing animals like the lioness Jimmy, who has been suffering from a nervine problem on her hind legs for two years, until two months ago, there was no resident doctor ever since former deputy superintendent of the zoo, Dr M V Karawale, retired six years ago.
Zoo officials, however, say there was never a need for a resident doctor as doctors were available at the zoo from 8 am to 6 pm daily. “There was never an emergency at night. We regularly feed the animals and give them the necessary medicines,” says an official.
Zoo officials attribute the deaths to the old age of the inhabitants. “There has been no epidemic or virus breakout at the zoo. The birds are 30-40 years old and are dying due to old age. They are fed regularly and their feed house and enclosures are kept clean,” says Dr Komal Raul, the veterinary doctor at the zoo.
There are other problems too. A visit by Newsline revealed how injured animals like a hippopotamus and a few deers continue to be kept on display, how rats nibble on food meant for birds and trouble them and crows peck at wounds of animals and steal food meant for the aquatic birds.
Also, large water bodies inside enclosures have turbid water, with tree branches lying around. Visitors can be seen carrying plastic waste inside the park. To top it all, an enclosure houses crocodile and Ghariyals (predators) along with sambar deers (prey).
Activists and animal lovers claim there is another big problem – poorly trained animal caretakers. Zoo officials, however, say most of its 46 caretakers were trained by their predecessors and they attend regular seminars and presentations by the CZA and travel to the snake parks and other zoos to learn better continued…