Nearly 250 animals reportedly died at the National Zoological Park, also known as the Delhi zoo, in a span of 14 months till June, making its mortality rate “more than exorbitant.”
Allegations have also been raised about the under-reporting of animal births in the zoo to improve its report card in years with high mortality rates.
An inventory report compiled by the zoo, accessed by The Indian Express, shows 245 animal deaths between April 2018 and June 2019, against 323 births.
Dr M S Negi, additional director general of forest (wildlife) at the Central environment ministry, said, “We have taken cognizance of these deaths…. and corrective measures are being taken.”
This is the second highest mortality figure recorded by the zoo in the past five years. The highest was 325 deaths in 2016-17 and lowest was 59 in 2014-15.
However, experts and conservationists claim the figures have been manipulated, and deaths of animals are being suppressed. The birth and subsequent deaths of two tiger cubs in a span of 10 days in August, 2018, was also not reflected in the inventory report, which has been submitted to the High Court.
Zoo director Renu Singh said they record births after the offspring have survived for at least a month, but added that all deaths have been recorded in a separate register.
Dr D N Singh, former member secretary of the Central Zoo Authority (CZA), said an acceptable mortality rate in Indian zoos is around 5%. He said, “The mortality figures are more than exorbitant. If this continues, the zoo would be wiped clean of animals in the next five years.”
Moreover, there are 27 species of animals in the zoo that do not have a mating partner. The CZA has advised against keeping single animals in zoos in its national policy.
Also, the zoo witnessed deaths of three animals and birds — a red-brested parakeet, softshell turtle and hoolock gibbon — that are classified as near threatened, vulnerable and endangered, as per the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Director Singh said, “We will study what caused the deaths of animals. Usually animals like parakeets die when they have completed their lifespan, and that probably happened in other animals’ case too. We keep trying to exchange mating partners for single animals from other zoos.”