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How Delhi zoo bosses sneaked in animals to replace the dead

On Wednesday, The Indian Express reported that zoo officials failed to record the deaths of at least 50 animals last year to show a remarkable dip in mortality rate.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: May 24, 2018 5:22:50 am
To dress up its report card, Delhi Zoo buried at least 50 animal deaths nder the Wildlife Protection Act, illegal trapping or capture of animals amounts to hunting. (File)

The Environment Ministry is examining three separate probe reports, including video clips submitted as evidence, which found that officials at Delhi Zoo illegally captured animals to replace several that died under their watch. On Wednesday, The Indian Express reported that zoo officials failed to record the deaths of at least 50 animals last year to show a remarkable dip in mortality rate. The probe reports being scanned by the Ministry go a step further.

They have indicted a former zoo director and a number of serving officials for “hunting” endangered wildlife. Under the Wildlife Protection Act, illegal trapping or capture of animals amounts to hunting. Examining two separate complaints from a zoo ranger and an NGO, inquiries conducted by the Ministry and the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) concluded that zoo staff illegally captured monitor lizards, sand boa, rat snakes, monitor lizards, tortoises and two small Indian civets.

READ | To dress up its report card, Delhi Zoo buried at least 50 animal deaths

“We are examining the reports. The Ministry will take appropriate steps,” M S Negi, additional director general (wildlife), Environment Ministry, told The Indian Express. Records show that among the several red flags was one raised by the ranger last year over monitor lizards being illegally replaced in the zoo. While the zoo claimed to have eight monitor lizards, ration was being obtained for only five since April 2016.

Even these five died between November 5, 2016 and January 2, 2017, records show. The ranger alleged that that within days of the last monitor lizard’s death, four of the species were found in the enclosures — and the replacements died within a month.
The probe reports include two video clips in which the head keeper of the zoo and a daily-wage labourer purportedly admit to capturing five monitor lizards — two from inside the premises and three from Haryana.

The other key findings of the probes are:

* Deaths of a water monitor lizard, a sand boa snake and a rat snake in 2016 were not recorded, and stock was replenished with animals captured illegally. Deaths of two more sand boa snakes went unreported during 2015-16 with replacements illegally obtained.

* Eight tortoises went missing; one was captured and housed illegally.

* Three red sand boa snakes, highly valued in the pet market, went missing.

Last August, a two-member inquiry committee headed by CZA chief D N Singh was set up after a preliminary probe by the Ministry recommended a CBI investigation into its finding that “hunting…has taken place…by the staff themselves with the abetment and knowledge of the previous director” of the zoo.

In its 43-page report submitted to the Ministry on April 18, the two-member committee — Dr V C Mathur, additional inspector general with the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) was the other member — reached the same conclusion. The report found former zoo director Amitabh Agnihotri, curator Riyaz Khan, a veterinary officer and a biological assistant guilty of hunting, illegal acquisition, suppression of animal death, manipulation of records, criminal conspiracy and misconduct.

Agnihotri did not respond to emails, phone calls and messages from The Indian Express seeking comment. “All this is motivated. We have complained against the CZA,” said Khan, the curator. When contacted, CZA’s Singh said: “We have submitted our reports. I cannot discuss the findings.” Delhi Zoo director Renu Singh did not respond to emails and messages seeking comment.

In another inquiry into a complaint received from an NGO, the CZA concluded that zoo authorities illegally captured two female small Indian civets during January-February 2017 to pair with the only male left in its stock for display and breeding. According to this report, which was also submitted to the Ministry on April 18, zoo staff claimed that the civets were caught accidentally in rat traps, taken to the hospital for treatment, and later housed in an enclosure.

The inquiry, however, found that hospital records showed no injury or trauma for which the animals were treated. This amounted to illegal capture and confinement without any valid medical reason, it concluded. The probe also found that no tests or vaccinations were conducted on the civets before they were shifted to enclosures, which put the resident animals at risk of infection. The zoo officials did not inform the CZA or the Environment Ministry about any of these acquisitions.

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