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Blacklisted zoos face shutdown

New Delhi, May 14: Hundreds of animals face an uncertain future after the Central Zoo Authority ordered the closure of 90 zoos and deer parks across the country.

The authority blamed states’ repeated failure to provide good living conditions and healthcare to the animals.

According to forest ministry officials, the authority’s recent survey of 346 zoos and deer parks showed that 190 lacked basic living standards, health norms and other upkeep parameters as prescribed by the Recognition of Zoo Rules, 1992.

Ninety of the 190 zoos, including five in Bengal, have been ordered shut because of the pathetic facilities and an equal number have been derecognised.

The defaulting states, however, have been given a chance to review the status of the zoos to help revive them. Ministry sources said the zoos would be allowed to function if the states improve their condition.

As for the remaining 10 zoos of the 190, mostly set up in the 1970s and ’80s, their recognition has been withheld pending compliance with conditions for improved healthcare and upkeep, the sources said.

With 17 blacklisted zoos, Uttar Pradesh tops the chart of defaulting states, followed by Maharashtra with 14, Bihar 12, Andhra Pradesh nine, and Punjab six.

The targeted zoos in Bengal include four in Calcutta: the one at Birla Industrial and Technological Museum, Deepak Mitra’s Snake House, Famous Mobile Zoo and Jaya Mobile Zoo.

Another 10 in the state figure on the derecognised list, including zoos at Bellilius Park, Howrah; Chitra Touring, Calcutta; Deer Park, Belari and Sri Ramkrishna Ashram, Howrah.

Delhi, too, figures on this list with its Deer Park at Dilshad Garden.

With the zoos shut, the authority is facing the challenge of rehabilitating the captive animals, including exotic and rare species of birds, snakes, tigers and panthers.

According to authority member-secretary P.R. Sinha, one option is to move these animals to a better-equipped zoo.

Another is to leave the herbivores in a forest area with significant wildlife. This, however, can be done only after vaccination so that no diseases can spread. Wildlife Trust of India senior adviser Ashok Kumar said the states have care-centres and funds to look after the displaced animals.

According to the forest ministry sources, the states want to set up zoos without wanting to spend on them. Compounding the problem is the states’ poor knowledge of zoo maintenance and animal care.

“Animals have the right to lead a quality life. That they are in captivity does not mean they should be put in a jail sort of situation,” Sinha said.

Commending the authority’s decision, Kumar said if the states really care for animals, they should ensure better upkeep.

“Putting animals in cages is archaic, barbaric and not scientific. The world is moving towards providing natural surroundings to animals, where they have companions and enrichment of life,” Kumar said.

According to a senior ministry officer, the zoos faced neglect as these had fallen out of favour with children of the upper and upper-middle class who preferred to watch wildlife channels.

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