Twenty-one cheetals, all female and some pregnant, died under circumstances still unexplained in Bilaspur zoo late Tuesday night. The zookeeper found them dead Wednesday morning when he went to their enclosure to feed them. Though officials are yet to explain the deaths, insiders said the deer were to be shifted to the nearby Achanakmar Tiger Reserve and had been administered some tranquillisers, which they believe could have caused a reaction. Bilaspur DFO Hemant Pandey, however, denied that there was any plan for a shift. “The last time cheetals were shifted was in April 2012, when 372 cheetals were movedout. Shifting is not an easy process and I don’t know who is spreading this news,” he told The Indian Express.
“We are surprised at the fact that only female cheetals have died, but unless any chemical evidence is available, it’s difficult to comment on the reason,” he said.“We are yet to conduct an autopsy, and cannot say anything now. They were bleeding from the mouth and the anus. It could be either a disease or poisoning,” principal chief conservator of forests Ramprakash told The Indian Express. He too was surprised about the fact that only females had died. “I cannot say why only females have died. Maybe it’s because when food is given, the females normally rush towards it first and males come later,” he said, though he added it is yet to be ascertained if the food was poisoned.
He noted that food is given to deer only in the morning and if it had been poisoned, some symptoms would have been visible through Tuesday. “They were under our watch until 8 pm yesterday and did not show any ailment,” he said.
Experts from the microbiology and pathology department have visited the zoo and are examining the carcasses.
The zoo had 53 cheetals. With Tuesday’s deaths, around 15 females remain now. The deaths have come two months after three newborn tiger cubs died in November, days after their birth, in Bilaspur zoo.