After several deaths of protected animals, including the common langur and hog deer, at the capital’s National Zoological Park were reported by the Central Zoo Authority (CZA), the Delhi High Court Friday sought a report from the Centre.
A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Deepa Sharma directed the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to file an affidavit on the steps being taken against the Delhi Zoo, which had allegedly suppressed the deaths by submitting inaccurate inventory reports and fabricated post-mortem reports.
It also sent a notice to the Ministry and Delhi Zoo, asking them to file counter-affidavits in eight weeks.
On Wednesday, The Indian Express had reported that zoo officials failed to record the deaths of at least 50 animals last year to show a remarkable dip in mortality rate.
In 1982, the Delhi Zoo was renamed as the National Zoological Park and envisioned as a model zoo for the rest of the country. The zoo is now under the scanner of the CZA, a statutory body under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, for reportedly fudging the number of animal deaths in its annual inventory report.
The court’s directions were issued on plea by an animal rights activist Gauri Maulekhi. The plea highlighted rampant irregularities and illegalities in the administration and veterinary care at the Delhi Zoo, which have been brought to light by the CZA.
Senior counsel Anup Bhambhani and advocates Priyanka Bangari and Mihir Samson, appearing for the activist, sought to initiate criminal action against erring management and zoo staff on the basis of the CZA reports of December 2016 and April 2018.
The petitioner said that as per the report accessed by her through an RTI, the CZA found negligence in the medical care provided to the animals, leading to the death of a newborn Sikka deer; widespread use of expired medication as well as illegal procurement; and inability to explain missing stock of Schedule X drug Ketamine, also notified as a psychotropic substance.
“Other findings include missing samples of a rhino horn, and the release of the common langur into the wild without any statutory requirements being fulfilled,” the plea said.
It sought directions to the ministry to establish an independent expert committee to look into the zoo’s oversight.
As reported by The Indian Express, the official death count at the zoo in 2017-18 was 91 from an opening stock of 1,202 animals. On paper, this was good news since it was a sharp fall from the 325 deaths recorded in 2016-17 — a 7.6% mortality rate compared to 27% the year before, and just slightly above the 5% considered acceptable for zoos globally.
But the Delhi Zoo’s numbers are suspect as the deaths of several animals were not recorded — including endangered species such as the brow-antlered deer found in Manipur, sambar deer, black buck, white buck, spotted deer, barking deer, red jungle fowl and palm civet, records show.