Suppressing deaths of hog deer and illegal capture of monitor lizards and Indian civets were among allegations investigated by a high-level committee formed to look into irregularities at the National Zoological Park (NZP), popularly known as the Delhi zoo.
Set up by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in June 2018, the five-member committee looked into various complaints and compiled a report of its investigation, which was accessed by The Indian Express.
One of the complaints made to the ministry was by a zoo officer on February 28, 2017, about five monitor lizards being allegedly captured illegally and brought to the zoo to replace dead animals.
The committee observed that nine monitor lizards died between November 5, 2016, and February 15, 2017, based on entries in zoo registers.
Four post-mortem reports between February 1 and 15, 2017, suggested that the cause of death was the sudden pulling out of the animal from their burrows on January 28, 2017, under instruction of the official who made the complaint.
The deaths of five other animals is not understood, the committee observed, adding: “It appears due care was not taken of the animals during winter months.” It said it did not find conclusive evidence to establish that five monitor lizards were illegally captured from outside.
“The allegations were made without taking into consideration the scientific facts about cold blooded burrowing reptiles… ignoring the possibility of having monitor lizards in their hiding places during winter month of January,” it said.
A report made by Dr D N Singh, the then member secretary of Central Zoo Authority, found that deaths of a number of hog deer were allegedly suppressed in 2015-16 by the NZP.
The report alleged that there were 15 hog deer deaths, as per a zoo register, but a mortality list signed by two officers showed eight deaths.
On January 18, 2017, a former zoo director submitted a report to the ministry stating that the zoo does not record animals that are dependant on their mothers in its mortality or inventory list.
After examining records, the committee found that out of 15 hog deer deaths between April 7, 2015, and February 29, 2016, post-mortem for only 10 are available. Of these 15 deaths, seven were not reflected in mortality or inventory list because the animals were “either dependent on mothers or no deaths took place”.
However, the committee found that only four deaths could be treated as those of animals dependent on mothers. It concluded that there was not sufficient ground to establish an intention of suppressing deaths.
“Though the acceptance by concerned officers that five post-mortem reports… are not available hints at possibility of manipulation of records, yet entries of deaths in beat registers indicate that officials had no intention to hide the deaths,” it observed.
Another report compiled by Dr Singh found that officers and zoo staff allegedly captured two small Indian civets on January 11, 2017, and February 15, 2017, from inside the zoo premises.
The report found that the animals were kept in a zoo veterinary hospital “illegally” for quarantine and were then reflected in the 2016-17 annual inventory report of NZP.
The committee did find that two Indian civets were captured from inside the zoo on the dates mentioned by Dr Singh, but added that they were “accidentally” caught in rat traps, laying of which is legal in the zoo.
They were kept in quarantine and later included in the zoo animal collection in accordance with its rules, the committee said. The prevailing practice at the zoo is that if a rescued animal is not fit to be released into the wild, it is added into the zoo collection.
However, the committee noted that zoo authorities failed to record a reason for including the animals in the main collection. “This appears to be more of an irregularity, for which officer concerned can be cautioned,” it noted.