Mumbai: Byculla Zoo could lose licence by year-end

Disappointed with survey findings, Central Zoo Authority sends Byculla zoo notice over crumbling enclosures, health of animals and overcrowding, while BMC tom-toms Rs 150 cr revamp

A deer suffering a skin infection wades through a filthy pool of water at the zoo on Saturday afternoon. CZA guidelines state that unwell animals be kept in separate enclosures. Pics/Suresh Karkera
A deer suffering a skin infection wades through a filthy pool of water at the zoo on Saturday afternoon. CZA guidelines state that unwell animals be kept in separate enclosures. Pics/Suresh Karkera

The city’s only zoo, at Byculla, could lose its licence by December this year if it does not get its act together. Appalled by the deplorable condition of some of the animals and their enclosures, the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) has slapped a notice on the authorities. Zoo authorities have until December this year to respond to the notice sent two weeks ago and rectify things.

A bird enclosure with a rusting cage looks like it hasn't been cleaned in a while. Pics/Suresh Karkera
A bird enclosure with a rusting cage looks like it hasn't been cleaned in a while

Among the CZA norms flouted by the Byculla zoo are that the animals should have proper enclosures with enough space to roam in, clean water to drink or swim in and should not be displayed if wounded or sick. Currently home to 400 animals, the zoo (as the pictures indicate) has rusting enclosures and filthy water which the animals drink and swim in. A senior official from the CZA in Delhi told mid-day, “We found the enclosures badly maintained and the upkeep of animals was not as per norms.”

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Filthy water in a moat in one of the enclosures
Filthy water in a moat in one of the enclosures

Director of Byculla zoo Dr Sanjay Tripathi has, however, made light of the notice, saying there was nothing to worry about. “This is usual practice by the CZA. If some of the conditions are not complied with, they give us time to rectify them. We will submit our reply to the CZA’s notice soon.”

An information board with faded writing
An information board with faded writing

Work on the ambitious Rs 150-crore revamp plan that will see the 53-acre zoo, laid out in 1873, get a complete makeover, was started in March this year. But, CZA’s issues with the zoo are separate from this. The zoo’s licence to operate currently depends on these issues being sorted out.

What the notice says
The notice states that as most of the enclosures are old and do not conform to CZA standards, they should be modified or rebuilt. CZA has directed that the enclosures match the behaviour requirement of the animals inside them. For instance, larger animals must have enough space to move around comfortably. The CZA has also suggested merging the vacant enclosures.

Prior warning
In 2011 and 2012, the CZA had severely criticised Byculla zoo authorities after many animals started dying at the zoo, either from disease or old age. Zoo authorities were let off with a warning at the time and told to improve the conditions at the zoo, but this year, things seem to have worsened to a point where the CZA was forced to send a notice.

CZA visit last year
The CZA team had visited the zoo in December 2015, after the zoo’s recognition had expired. The recognition is a licence given for a period of between one to three years to publicly display animals. As per the Recognition of Zoo Rules, 2009, CZA recognition is given only if facilities inside enclosures are found to be satisfactory. The zoo has got an extension on the licence for a year, which expires this December. Currently, the zoo that sees 9 lakh visitors a year has 20 enclosures housing animals like barking deer, blue bull, spotted deer, elephants, pythons and birds. However, the enclosures for tigers, lions, hyenas, and rhinoceros are empty as they have died either because of ailments or old age. The zoo is yet to replace these. Civic officials said that it would have been be part of the revamped premises.

Read Story: Mumbai: Byculla Zoo to get Rs 35-crore theatre

The budget for the zoo comes from the civic body’s gardens department. While the post of zoo director was created in April 2010, administrative and financial powers are vested only with the deputy municipal commissioner and additional municipal commissioner.

Activists say
Animal welfare activists have criticised the zoo’s revamp plan, saying authorities must first take care of the animals currently at the zoo, instead of jumping to revamp it.

Sunish Subramanian from NGO PAWS-Mumbai said, “We have been raising the issue regarding the poor condition of animal enclosures for a long time, but not much has changed. The BMC wants to make this zoo on a par with international standards, but the authorities should take care of the animals currently there before speaking about a revamp.”

Another activist said, “If they do not have a system in place to take care of the existing animals in the zoo, how are they going to take care of exotic species? The need of the hour is to have a monitoring committee in place, which should have members from among citizens and CZA, animal welfare activists, and representatives from NGOs.”

Other problems too, says CZA
>> The zoo does not have a visitor circulation plan to regulate movement of visitors to avoid disturbance to animals. It should have signage to guide visitors inside the zoo.

>> Stray dogs captured by the civic body in the Byculla area are being released in close proximity of the zoo, which should be stopped immediately. Rules say zoos should not house domestic animals and pets within the premises and adequate safeguards should be put in place to prevent the entry of domestic livestock, stray animals and pets. A few years ago, a stray dog allegedly attacked a deer, leading to its death, zoo officials admitted.

India’s best zoo
Mysore Zoo, created in 1892, is spread over 45 acres with spacious enclosures. The zoo was opened to the public in 1902, and now includes a bandstand and an artificial lake. In the last decade, the CZA declared the zoo the best in the country.

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