International pressure following the death of a penguin at the Byculla zoo has led the Central Zoo Authority to slap a second show-cause notice on the zoo management. A week after the 18-month-old female Humboldt penguin died, reportedly of a bacterial infection, the CZA has demanded a status report on maintenance of the remaining seven and the report of the post-mortem conducted on Dory, the dead penguin, within a week.
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The CZA, in its letter sent to the Byculla zoo authorities on October 28, highlighted the concerns voiced by an international animal welfare organisation, named Humane Society International (HSI).
While civic officials still insist that they have adhered to the prescribed norms in setting up the quarantine section as well as the enclosure, the CZA has questioned the ‘suitability and appropriateness’ of housing, and care of the penguins as per the standards of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Meanwhile, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said the contractor for the penguin project, Highway Construction Company, will forfeit a sum of Rs 1.4 crore for not having a joint venture agreement with a reputable company in an allied field, a mandatory condition in the tender.
The officials said it is being studied whether there was any wilful misrepresentation of the facts of the company’s background and its associates.
The CZA’s letter also said the fact that the one-and-a-half-year-old penguin had died due to septicemia while in quarantine indicated that the standards of care taken up by the zoo authorities were poor.
The first letter by the CZA was sent in September, asking the zoo authorities to improve its standards in six months.
The CZA has also asked for the credentials of the aquarium in South Korea from where the flightless birds were acquired. Stating that there are “doubts” whether this aquarium is registered by the CITES as a captive breeding facility and if the BMC had secured all the requisite import certification, the letter said a clarification would be required from the BMC.
D N Singh, member secretary of the CZA, had visited the premises in September. When contacted, he said, “I am not happy with the Byculla zoo. Besides the penguins, the upkeep of the other animals too was not up to the mark. We have expressed our concerns. By February-end, the zoo will be reassesed.”
According to officials, following the death of the Humboldt penguin, a team from the CZA is expected to visited the Byculla zoo soon. “We are awaiting some specific details regarding the post-mortem of the dead penguin. While it will be premature to say the penguin died due to negligence, we are inquiring into the matter,” said another senior CZA official.
Terming the Humboldt penguin species ‘vulnerable’, HSI, in its representation sent to the CZA, pointed out that penguins have been assessed as ‘being in danger of extinction’ and cannot be traded for commercial purposes. It also demanded that the penguins be returned to their natural habitat.
The zoo authorities are yet to send a response to the first show-cause notice sent by the CZA earlier.
The previous notice had raised concerns about the poor condition of the zoo and had asked the zoo to appoint an animal curator and a biologist along with more animal keepers.
Civic officials, however, said there has never been a provision for an animal curator and biologist. “Of the 25 scheduled posts, we have 10 vacancies for animal keepers. We will promote the labour staff to fill in the vacancies and have to make a provision for a biologist before appointing one,” said an official.
After several corporators, including Rais Shaikh from the Samajwadi Party as well as the leader of opposition and Congress corporator Pravin Chheda, cried foul over the lack of action against the contractor, Highway Construction Company, the civic administration said they had penalised it for not having a joint venture with the American company as claimed by them.
“We had received a mail from American agency SIVAT, stating there are financial issues between the two agencies. We have thus, forfeited their deposit money of Rs 1.4 crore,” said Additional Municipal Commissioner Sanjay Deshmukh.
Officials from SIVAT, a company, which deals with aquaculture systems, in an email said they are not a part of the project concerning the construction of the penguin enclosure at the Byculla zoo. While the zoo officials said the report of the stool samples of the remaining seven penguins indicated that they are healthy, animal activists said the BMC was just trying to underplay the death of the penguin.
Sunish Subramanium of the Plants and Animals Welfare Society said a high-level investigation should be initiated into the Byculla case as the penguin died owing to negligence.
“We request the CZA, the forest department and the state wildlife board not to grant permission to bring in exotic animals like zebras, giraffes and ostriches to the Byculla zoo, or the other animals that were to be procured under an exchange scheme zoos in Gujarat,” said Subramanium.