Mumbai, April 4: Twenty-one animals were charred to death in a fire inside a Russian circus tent here.
Four sea lions, 10 Eskimo dogs and seven mixed-breed cats died when they could not escape the blaze in the tent at the Chitrakoot grounds in Andheri in the western suburbs.
The fire was reported around 3 pm in the tent of the Russian State Circus Company Rosgoscirk, which had performed at Calcutta's Netaji indoor stadium in November 2004.
Fire-fighters could rescue only three Eskimo dogs with burn injuries and the condition of one was said to be serious. They were taken to a welfare centre run by the animal rights organisation Karuna.
'It was terrible to see the black, burnt animal carcasses,' said Arvind Shah of Karuna.
Amitabh Gupta, the deputy commissioner of police of Zone VIII, said: 'The fire brigade authorities told us that short circuit could be one of the likely reasons. Though we have registered a case of accidental fire, we will do a full investigation into the case.'
Promoted by an event management company, Choice Events and Trade, the circus toured Calcutta and Indore before reaching Mumbai where animal rights groups strongly opposed its performance.
People for Animals, an NGO, had secured a stay order against the circus using sea lions, Eskimo dogs and cats during performances.
The circus company argued that it was a foreign entity and Indian rules could not apply to it, and succeeded in getting the stay vacated from Bombay High Court on March 17.
Animal rights activists had warned the court about the negligence shown by the circus. Dharmesh Solanki of People for Animals said: 'The circus had performed in Calcutta and Indore without permission from the Animal Welfare Board of India.'
The board had asked the animal rights activists to inspect the conditions in which the animals were kept.
'These animals were brought from extremely cold regions and we found them living in extremely poor conditions,' Solanki said.
He added that the circus had three air-conditioners, but they were clearly insufficient in recreating the temperatures the animals were accustomed to in nature.
'When we conducted the inspection on March 6, only two air-conditioners were working. The dogs, especially, were kept in filthy conditions,' Solanki said.
Based on the inspection report, the board had refused permission to the circus. But after the high court vacated the stay, the circus was allowed to use the animals.
The carcasses were being taken away for post-mortem by the Bombay Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. J.C. Khanna, secretary, who had visited the spot, said:
'Usually circus tents use cotton cloth. But, this one used polythene material.'
Peta, the animal rights organisation Pamela Anderson, among others, promotes, has decided to write to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the incident.