An expired medicine being administered to wild animals for almost six years; “gross negligence” by staff and officers; and a possible tampering of records relating to a Schedule X drug —these are some of the findings of a high-level committee probing allegations of mismanagement at the National Zoological Park, 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 several claims, including cover-up of deaths of wild animals, illegal procurement of animals, and the disappearance of a Schedule X drug, Ketamine.
One such case was the alleged negligence in the veterinary care of a Sika deer and the death of its newborn fawn in June 2016. The committee conducted its own investigation based on the findings of a report by Dr D N Singh, former Central Zoo Authority member secretary, who found lapses on the part of many officials.
From the statements of zoo officials, the committee found that those in charge of care of the Sika deer were either engaged with foreign delegates at the time, or placed responsibility to examine the deer on other officers, who also failed to visit the enclosure on June 17, 2016. No staff were engaged to observe the condition of the deer and the fawn the night it was born, the report concludes.
The fawn died the following day at 9.18 am, eight minutes after it was flagged that its condition was critical, with veterinary officials reaching two minutes after the death, the committee observed. “This is a case of gross negligence and indifferent approach of almost all staff and officers directly responsible for the general and veterinary care of animals,” the committee said.
It was also discovered that an expired “ayurvedic” medicine named ‘Replanta’ was given to the deer the day its fawn had died. Scrutiny of records and statements taken from officials showed that the medicine was administered to zoo animals on 10 different occasions between December 21, 2011, and June 18, 2016, even after it had expired in September 2010.
The veterinary officer and the compounder, in their statements to the committee, accepted that they were administering the medicine despite knowing that it had expired, based on the belief that the medicine would not cause harm to animals as it was ayurvedic.
Another allegation the committee probed was also based on a report by Dr Singh — on “illegal procurement of the ketamine drug, which went missing from the zoo.”
The invoice of the company from which ketamine was sought shows that an order was placed by a zoo official for one 50 ml vial on September 5, 2015. However, the committee discovered from statements of two zoo officials that five 10 ml vials were received.
The committee observed that a zoo official had violated procedure of procurement of the “sensitive drug”. It added that action was being initiated against the supplier by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization.
Statements of two zoo officials mention that the entire 50 ml drug was issued on January 25, 2016, of which a quantity of 28 ml was used 23 times for the treatment of different animals, with 14 ml kept in dart syringes. The officials did not attach any documents to prove their claim that the medicine was used 23 times, the committee said.
“It is possible that it is a mere case of casual record keeping. At the same time, possibility of record manipulation cannot be ignored,” the report said.
The panel, comprising officials from the ministry, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, recommended “disciplinary action” and warning to a number of zoo officials.
It also made other recommendations to improve management of the zoo, including shifting administrative control to the CZA and establishing an expert committee to review standard operating procedures.
Renu Singh, the zoo director, said she has initiated action against officials, and the ministry would decide action against a particular officer whose name has cropped up in many cases. She added that the allegations investigated by the committee was from the tenure of previous zoo directors. She said the report would be submitted to the ministry and the Delhi High Court, which is hearing petitions on alleged irregularities at the zoo.