Mumbai: Big cats dying, ill, but minister wants to lure tourists to SGNP

State Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar would do well to focus his attention on the poor health of wildlife at the national park, where 3 leopards and a lioness have died in the past 2 months; NGO alleges the park’s veterinary officer is not qualified to treat wild animals

During a recent visit to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), while state Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar had spoken of his vision to make it a tourist destination, there may be very few wild cats left to see.

SGNP Veterinary Officer Dr Sanjiv Pinjarkar was earlier with the animal husbandry department, which deals with domestic animals
SGNP Veterinary Officer Dr Sanjiv Pinjarkar was earlier with the animal husbandry department, which deals with domestic animals

Three leopards and a lioness have died in the past two months, and another leopard and two tigresses have taken ill. According to an NGO, Myvets Charitable Trust & Research Centre, the veterinary doctor at the park, Dr Sanjiv Pinjarkar, is not qualified to treat wild animals.

Also Read: Come to Mumbai and visit Borivli national park: Forest Minister

White tigress Rebecca has not been eating properly for weeks
White tigress Rebecca has not been eating properly for weeks

Mungantiwar spoke exclusively to mid-day and revealed some of his plans for the makeover of the park to attract more visitors, especially foreign tourists. However, its popular tiger and lion safari have been affected after the death of the animals.

Three leopards and one lioness have died in SGNP in the past 2 months
Three leopards and one lioness have died in SGNP in the past 2 months

Dr Madhurita Gupta, president of Myvets, said, “The present veterinary doctor at SGNP, Dr Pinjarkar, does not have the expertise to treat wild animals, as he was earlier associated with the animal husbandry department.

Three leopards and a lioness have died in SGNP, in the past two months. File pic
Three leopards and a lioness have died in SGNP, in the past two months. File pic

We have been demanding for a long time that that only those doctors with expertise in treating wild animals should be appointed at SGNP and Byculla zoo. It is easier for experienced doctors to understand the illness of animals and accordingly give proper medication.”

“The death of animals in SGNP is a matter of worry, but preliminarily it appears that the reason is old age. Our expert doctor has already visited the park and collected blood samples. We have sent the material for analysis. Only after getting the report will we be able to comment on the exact reason for the death,” Dr Gupta added.

State forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar speaking at SGNP on Sunday
State forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar speaking at SGNP on Sunday

While the officials claim that the animals, at present, have been kept on a lean diet so that they don’t become obese, sources said, “It is worrying that the animals are already eating very less. Poman, the leopardess, littered after 11 days and the two tigresses, Rebecca and Pooja, are also eating very less. The death of three leopards and one lioness is worrying us.”

mid-day’s report yesterday on Mungantiwar’s plans for SGNP
mid-day’s report yesterday on Mungantiwar’s plans for SGNP

Sources explained that Pooja, a Bengal tigress, is suffering from a skin problem on her tail, abdominal area and buttocks. Rebecca is a white tigress. “If they eat so less, they will become very weak,” added the source.

The blood samples of the ailing and deceased animals have been sent to the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) at Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh. On November 1, the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) team visited the cages and enclosures inside park to survey the conditions in which the animals were kept.

On the park’s request, the CZA has deputed Dr AK Sharma of IVRI and a vet from Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to come to SGNP and suggest preventive and curative measures for the matter. Sources from Bombay Veterinary College said, “After the death of lioness Shobha, a meeting had been convened to discuss the issue of animals dying in captivity at SGNP.

During this discussion, SGNP Director Vikas Gupta was also present. When the topic of appointing a private doctor was discussed, the team of veterinary doctors objected, saying that there was no need to appoint a private vet when the doctor at SGNP is already capable of looking after wild animals.

Doctors who have been visiting SGNP and are currently looking after the animals have a proper Bachelors Degree in Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry.”

Park speak
SGNP Director Vikas Gupta said, “The CZA team visited cages on November 1 after which they expressed their satisfaction on hygiene and cleanliness fronts. We have a qualified veterinary doctor to look after the animals. The collective wisdom of the expert panel is used to care for the animals.”

However, Gupta said only one animal is ill in the park. “At present, only one female leopard is not well since it was not eating regularly. It has started improving of late, and the animal ate nearly 1 kg of dressed chicken yesterday and today.

Her blood sample along with tissue samples of a dead leopard have been sent to IVRI for further investigations.” Suresh Thorat, additional principal chief conservator of the forest, said, “The death of wild animals in captivity is a worrying fact, and so, we have already appointed a committee of experts including senior veterinarians to seek advice on this issue.

We have also approached the Wildlife Institute of India and are also in touch with the directors of various zoos in the country to find out if they have faced any such cases. We are investigating whether a contagious disease is causing deaths and are waiting for the post-mortem report, after which we will be in a better position to comment.”

When questioned why there is no expert wildlife veterinary doctor appointed for the park, Thorat replied, “In our country, veterinary doctors look after the treatment of wild animals and there is no separate branch of wildlife veterinary doctors. It is only after treating the animal over a period of time that these veterinary doctors become experts.”

Vet speak
SGNP’s veterinary officer, Dr Sanjiv Pinjarkar (seen above during a night patrol at SGNP) said, “It is wrong to say that we are not taking proper care. We are qualified veterinary doctors and we have been doing regular check-ups of animals in captivity at SGNP. One of the leopards that was unwell is now recovering, and has started eating food.

More than 45 days ago, the tigresses Rebecca and Pooja had a fight while they were being shifted from one cage to another, but they have now recovered. It is really unfortunate that we lost some very beautiful creatures from our captivity in the last two months, but the main reason behind their death seems to be old age.

We have taken the illnesses of animals very seriously and have sent blood samples for further examination. After getting a post-mortem report, we will be able to comment on the exact reason behind the death of these animals.” Pinjarkar also added that doctors from the animal husbandry department usually deal with domestic animals, like cattle and goats.

“It has been more than two years for me at SGNP, and I have successfully rescued leopards trapped in trap cages after man-animal conflict situations. All those animals were safely rescued and released back into the wild, so it is wrong to question my style of working with wild animals,” he stated.

Wild cats in the park
The Sanjay Gandhi National Park has nine tigers, 15 leopards and three lions.

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