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Zoo intruder had eyed cub, extra cover for tiger family

The trespassing at Tata zoo in the early hours of Sunday was a daring bid to steal the lone Royal Bengal Tiger cub, an internal inquiry committee has found, prompting a slew of extra security measures — from sturdy locks and cell shuffle to extra vigil — on Monday.

According to zoo officials, the intruder — 28-year-old Chandil resident Asif Ali who was mauled by Raghav, the father, after he sneaked into the feline enclosure — had been spotted on the premises last week.

“He was loitering too close to the tiger cages, which invited attention. One of the guards shooed him away,” an official said.

The three-member probe team, comprising managing committee member of Tata Steel Zoological Society Rajnish Kumar, zoo director Bipul Chakrabarty and his deputy Manik Palit, said their findings pointed to a carefully orchestrated plan to steal the tiger cub.

Rubbishing doubts raised over Ali’s mental stability, Kumar said that it would not have been possible for a deranged man to prop up the 40kg drop gate to Raghav’s cage.

“There is no question of the intruder being mentally unstable. He was clever enough to avoid being spotted by the guards as well as lift such a heavy drop gate. His intention was ill, perhaps to steal the cub but he confused the cell,” he insisted.

After a marathon huddle, the probe team made a spot inspection of the enclosure in the afternoon to assess accessibility to the tigers.

Robust locks were clamped on the drop gates of both tiger and lion cages. The tiger cub and mother Shanti have been shifted to a cell, which does not have immediate access through grille.

Similar arrangements have been put in place for the five African lion cubs imported from Pretoria zoo.

Lights to the cages will, henceforth, glow throughout the night, while an extra guard has been put on duty at the feline enclosures from 10pm to 6pm.

The inquiry committee also held a meeting with the director of Turret Industrial Security Services, which is in charge of protecting the zoo from intruders.

“The agency has suspended its security commander and the guard who was on duty at the tiger enclosure that night,” Kumar said, adding that an FIR had been lodged with Bistupur police.