In the time of lockdown to check the spread of COVID-19, zoos across the state are making sure that the carnivores do not go without their daily dose of meat.
While the Vadodara, Rajkot and Junagadh zoos have been able to procure buffalo meat for its carnivores in advance, Surat Municipal Corporation’s Sarthana zoo has resorted to feeding smaller meals of chicken to its big cats.
With the supply of buffalo meat disrupted due to the lockdown, Surat zoo authorities are feeding about 30 kilos of chicken per day to three tigers, five jackals, five leopards, and four hyenas. The authorities said that the onset of summer naturally reduces the diet of the carnivores, but due to the lockdown buffalo meat has not reached the zoo which procures its supply through local contractors. Fish, however, has been available for White Ibis, Otter, Pelican, Night Heron, Spoonbill and Stock. The zoo is feeding about 35 kilos of fish to its birds on a daily basis.
Sarthana Zoo superintendent Dr Praful Mehta said, “The supply chain of buffalo meat has been hampered due to the lockdown, so we are replacing it with chicken. Our zoo does not have facility of slaughtering live animals but now we are considering setting up one in the near future. We are getting fish from contractors in Dumas, Navsari and other places.”
In Vadodara’s Sayajibaug Zoo, the supply of buffalo meat has been aplenty, such that it is also supplying 60 kilograms to the Kevadia Zoological Park near the Statue of Unity in Narmada district, about 90 kilometres away.
The Vadodara zoo authorities said that a plan was chalked out in advance, much before the announcement of the lockdown, keeping in mind the looming crisis due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Curator Pratyush Patankar said, “We issued passes to our meat suppliers and transport persons with my contact number printed on it so that the police at check posts could confirm and allow the vehicle to pass during lockdown. We had anticipated this situation and so we had already made sure that our supplier has stock to give us. For our pair of tigers, pair of lions and six leopards along with a pair of jackals and a few carnivorous birds in Vadodara, we need about 70 kg of buffalo meat per day. We have an in-house slaughterhouse… we need about three buffaloes per day. This includes the 60 kg of fresh meat that we are supplying to Kevadia zoological park since the beginning of the lockdown.”
Patankar said that while the zoo hasn’t faced any hurdle in procuring meat, the lockdown has meant that the person designated to find animals for slaughter must travel village to village in search of sellers. “In regular times, we purchase the buffaloes from weekly animal haats in tribal areas. But now that the haats are shut due to the lockdown, our supplier has activated his network to purchase from individual farmers in Padra and Karjan in Vadodara district as well as from outside like Panchmahal. In the beginning of the lockdown, our supplier had stock for 12 days for our zoo,” Patankar said.
Everyday, the bovines are slaughtered inside the Vadodara zoo and 60 kg is packed in thermocol boxes and transported to Kevadia Colony. Patankar said the Kevadia Zoological Park has arranged its vehicle to ferry the fresh meat and also agreed to observe fasting day on Thursday.
“At Sayajibaug zoo, we have a practice of keeping the carnivores on fast on Thursdays. This is in line with the natural course of wild animals. They do not get feed everyday when they are on their own in the wild and hunting,” Patankar added.
Kevadia Zoological Park Director Ram Ratan Nala said that while the supply of meat for the carnivores in the safari park has been taken care of by the Sayajibaug zoo, the alternate contingency plan includes procuring chickens from local farmers in Narmada district.
“Since zoo management and wildlife management has been kept under essential services by the Central Zoo Authority (CZA), so far, we haven’t faced any trouble getting the meat. We have six big carnivores – two tigers, two lions and two leopards. We also have smaller carnivores. The big carnivores need about 8 to 10 kg of feed per day while the smaller ones need up to a kilo. If there is any issue in the future during the pandemic, we will buy chicken from local farmers. We also have to check the quality of the meat before feeding the animals,” Nala said.
Rajkot Zoological Park, popularly called Pradyuman Park, said it has also issued identity cards to those who supply meat, fodder and other feed for animals and birds.
“The Central Zoo Authority had issued instructions to all zoos and mini-zoos in the country to ensure enough supply of food, feed and fodder for captive animals during lockdown. The government has exempted suppliers of food, feed and fodder to zoos and their vehicles from the lockdown. Therefore, soon after the lockdown came into force, we issued identity cards to all our suppliers and there hasn’t been any difficulty in regular supply of these things,” Rakesh Hirapara, director of Pradyuman Park, said.
The zoo has 17 Asiatic lions, nine white tigers, one royal Bengal tiger and around 10 other smaller carnivores. Hirapara said that the present supplier functions out of a slaughter house controlled by the Rajkot Municipal Corporation in Sadar area of the city. The Sakkarbaug Zoo run by the Gujarat state forest department said that supply for its captive animals has not been disturbed so far but it has done stockpiling commercial broiler to meet any exigencies.
“We have around 120 carnivores, including 65 Asiatic lions, 45 leopards and smaller carnivores like wolves, caracals, foxes etc and we have an in-house slaughter house. Daily, we need average six livestock heads at the slaughter house to feed these carnivores. The supply of the livestock has not been affected so far as district administration has issued certificates to our suppliers…,” Abhishek Kumar, director of Sakkarbaug Zoo, said.