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Victim of royal Bengal red tape Officials delay tiger treatment

An injured Royal Bengal Tiger rescued from the Sunderbans has been kept without treatment at the Alipore zoo hospital for two-and-a-half months because two sets of officials are squabbling over “what the rules say”.

The state zoo authority claims it can’t tranquillise the tiger to do an X-ray on the festering wound in its hind leg without the consent of the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve. Officials in mangrove country say the green signal should come from the chief wildlife warden, not them.

As the two sides play pass-the-buck, the tiger remains immobile in its enclosure at the animal hospital across the zoo with the wound showing no sign of healing. The vets have told the state zoo authority that they can’t confirm the cause and extent of the injury without an X-ray.

“The animal belongs to the tiger reserve. The rules are such that we need the sanctuary’s consent to tranquillise it and conduct any veterinary procedure that might be required. We have written to them several times and there has been no response,” said a zoo official who didn’t wish to be named.

Subrat Mukherji, field director of the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, told Metro the zoo should be seeking the chief wildlife warden’s consent to tranquillise the animal instead of writing to his department. “My department has no role to play in this,” he said.

The tiger had been sedated and brought to the zoo after it was found unable to move for over 24 hours inside the mangroves on July 26. An official at the zoo hospital said the tiger, around seven years old, couldn’t stand on its feet because of its “very weak posterior”. The vets have been dressing the wound every day but it hasn’t healed.

“We have even administered antibiotics but they haven’t worked to the extent we had expected. The tiger has been having its daily diet of 10kg of beef and gaining weight,” a zoo official said.

When the injured animal had been brought to the zoo hospital, it had weighed between 80 and 90kg. It has gained at least 10kg since. An adult Royal Bengal Tiger can weigh in excess of 200kg.

Members of the National Tiger Conversation Authority had visited the zoo hospital a few days after it was brought in and found it malnourished and unable to move.

“The hind portion was just bones and skin. The tiger was immobile,” said Joydip Kundu, a member of the committee. “We could not have examined the tiger properly until it stood on its feet for at least a few minutes.”

It was only after the tiger had gained enough strength to get up that the zoo vets discovered some injuries, including the festering wound. “The main wound is fairly large and the most worrying part is that it is not healing. We suspect some foreign substance or object inside is preventing it from healing. It could be a fracture too, which we can’t confirm as of now. An X-ray is a must,” said an official of the state zoo authority.

Field director Mukherji promised to “look into the matter”, while zoo director K.L. Ghosh said his team was “in the process of getting the consent”.

But wildlife experts warned it could be too late for the tiger by the time officials sorted out who was responsible for what.

“It is unlikely that the tiger will be fit enough to hunt. To stay in the reserve, it will have to fend for itself and that’s not possible with a wound that hasn’t been treated properly in more than two months,” said a senior official of the forest department.

The tiger is unlikely to find a place in the zoo either because nobody would want an ailing or injured animal on display. “No decision has been taken till now but the tiger could be shifted to the rehabilitation centre in the Khayerbari forest of north Bengal,” an official said.

Some might suggest simultaneously shifting the officials responsible for its condition to a wildlife boot camp.