In India’s forests, poachers are responsible for killing animals and bringing them closer to extinction. In Calcutta, the Alipore zoo has performed this grisly task to perfection. Four red kangaroos brought from the Czech Republic have been added to the long list of over 60 animals that have reportedly perished in the zoo between August 2011 and March 2012. The institution, one of the oldest in India, has had a chequered record when it comes to providing quality animal care. In 2010, on finding the cage door open, a female chimpanzee, yet to recover from the effects of tranquillizers, had fallen to her death after climbing a tree. Eight marmosets were stolen a year before that, while a giraffe was electrocuted while being transported to a zoo in Odisha in 2008. These deaths reveal that the zoo management and keepers in Alipore remain negligent about critical aspects of animal care. These range from simple tasks such as locking cages to prevent animals from fleeing or to keep intruders at bay to more complex tasks that include studying ways to maintain the right atmosphere inside enclosures and providing safe relocation for animals. But negligence is perhaps too simplistic an explanation for the frequent deaths of zoo animals. That some of India’s zoological parks and the people who run them are yet to embrace a culture that encourages people to care about animals is a more likely explanation. The deaths of the marsupials have also underlined the need for donor agencies — the Czech zoo, in this instance — to examine closely the facilities provided by recipient institutions before agreeing to send animals elsewhere.
Poor infrastructure and apathy have combined to kill animals repeatedly in the Alipore zoo, sullying its image further in the eyes of the nation and the world. These deaths have also undermined the idea of the zoo as an institution that serves as an ideal platform to learn about nature and its wonderful creatures.