Charges levelled include mysterious deaths, no post-mortems, illegal capturing and housing of animals, manipulation of records and criminal conspiracy.
New Delhi: Mysterious deaths, no post-mortems, illegal capturing and housing of animals, manipulation of records and criminal conspiracy — these are some of the charges levelled against Delhi zoo officials by an inquiry panel appointed by the environment ministry.
In its report, the committee constituted under the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) in August 2017 has indicted six officers and employees of the National Zoological Park (NZP), the official name of the Delhi zoo, for “misconduct and criminal offences”.
The report submitted on 18 April has also suggested that a special investigation team (SIT) be constituted or the case be handed over to a central investigative agency to probe the alleged criminal actions committed at the zoo, a popular hangout in the capital.
The examination of records available with the committee, formed in August last year, has “brought out shocking and startling facts, which indicate serious and grave illegal and criminal actions being committed in a concerted manner by the officers and employees of the zoo”, the report has alleged.
ThePrint reached the environment ministry and the NZP for comment but there was no response from either until the time of publication.
The report, which is based on an inquiry into a complaint filed by an NZP official, has alleged seven major findings, including (i) illegal catching of five monitor lizards – a species listed under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; (ii) submission of false statutory inventory report to the CZA by the NZP authorities; (iii) suppression of deaths of several animals, and their subsequent replacement with illegally captured animals (iv) alleged harassment of the official who lodged the complaint.
In addition, the dressing and medication of the captive animals in the zoo was allegedly being carried out for years by a daily-wage labourer, who has no formal qualification in the field. “It is not out of place to mention here,” the report claims, “that the NZP has seen a large number of deaths of captive animals in the zoo in the last few years, which is alarming.”
The zoo had reportedly recorded 325 animal deaths in 2016-17.
Also, in a clear violation of the Recognition of Zoo Rules, 2009, the post-mortem of animals that die in the zoo is allegedly not being conducted. “An entire blank post-mortem register containing 50 pages has been found in the zoo,” the report claims. “It has been left blank for subsequent manipulation of the records by the veterinary officer of the zoo.”
As per the Recognition of Zoo Rules, 2009, a detailed post-mortem examination of dead animals to conclusively determine the cause of death must be conducted, and its records maintained for a minimum period of six years.
Activists express dismay
The report also claims that the “grave illegalities” were brought to the notice of the environment ministry itself through several letters written back in 2016 — a fact not gone unnoticed by animal rights activists.
Gauri Maulekhi, an animal rights activist, said, “If the violations in the Delhi zoo have been willfully ignored by MOEFCC for so many years, it can only be assumed what the condition of other zoos is.”
The report, signed by Dr D.N. Singh, member secretary, CZA, concludes with the suggestion that in addition to constituting an SIT or handing over the case to the CIA, “remedial measures are also required to bring the zoo back to its prime position as a Centre of Excellence”.
However, Maulekhi argues that as opposed to popular perception, zoos were not provisioned for in the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 for public entertainment, but as centres for conservation and education — a purpose that has been wholly defeated.
“Time has come to replace this unscientific medieval concept of public entertainment with rescue conservation centres with greater accountability and targeted approach for protection of wildlife,” she said.