The lion enclosure at Jamshedpur’s Tata zoo lies in a haze of dust kicked up by the widening project of Marine Drive (below) on Saturday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
Jamshedpur, Feb. 1: If the inmates of Jamshedpur’s elegantly laid out zoo seem a little less friendly these days, don’t blame the winter.
Irritable and listless, they are all living under a massive cloud of dust that hovers over their cages, courtesy ongoing construction work on a thoroughfare that skirts a portion of the animal farm.
In fact, the ongoing Rs 120-crore Marine Drive widening project has kicked up so much dust and ash across the 92-acre zoo in Bistupur that the animals and birds are now suffering from respiratory issues along with breeding problems.
“Apart from those staying near the boundary wall, other animals and birds are suffering because of the road construction work. The thick cloud of dust is unmistakable,” zoo director Bipul Chakravarty lamented to The Telegraph.
The haze has been a constant companion of the animals and birds ever since work to widen the 10km circular stretch to Adityapur into four lanes started two months ago.
Lions, tigers, sloth bears, langoors, leopards, ostrich and emus are the most vulnerable as their enclosures are located close to the boundary wall.
Zoo authorities have intimated Tata Steel Zoological Society as well as the company’s environment wing about the pollution concerns and ensuing health hazards.
“There is also noise pollution caused by the sound of construction machines and tools and constant vibration. As it is, hundreds of heavy vehicles ply on Marine Drive daily,” Chakravarty added.
Ironically, the road widening work, part of the western corridor project along Subernarekha and Kharkai rivers, is being executed by Tata Steel, custodians of the zoo that boasts five pure-bred African lions, three Royal Bengal tigers, five leopards, three sloth beers, six langoors, one ostrich and nine emus among other species.
According to the local unit of Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board’s November 2013 readings, RSPM (respirable suspended particulate matter) levels at Bistupur and Golmuri were 106.9mg/m3 and at Adityapur 120.39 mg/m3 against a normal of 100mg/m3.
The board takes the measurements every three months. The next one is due mid-February.
On the health risks that the animals and birds are facing, Chakravarty explained that air pollution could severely affect their breeding patterns, too.
“It also causes behavioural and respiratory problems among them. Volunteers have been deputed to keep a watch on the behaviour of carnivores and herbivores as their stress level has increased manifold over the past couple of months,” he said.
No wonder the animals do not look their usual cheerful selves these days. A film of dust has settled on their bodies. Their discomfort is evident as they look unclean and haggard.
Visitors can feel it too, with most moving about with handkerchiefs on their faces. “I cannot risk inhaling dust particles. It is better to cover my face,” said Shweta Jha, a housewife who was at the zoo with her family in the morning.
Zoo officials pleaded helplessness. “We are custodians of the animals. We can only initiate steps on the directives of forest authorities,” Chakravarty said.
He claimed that regional chief conservator of forests K.K. Chatterjee had ordered an inspection of the zoo to find out the prevailing situation, but the forest officials were yet to do so.
But Chatterjee denied having issued any such instruction. “I have not given any directive for inspection of the zoo. You can speak to the district wildlife warden, who is the competent authority to take steps in this regard,” he added.
District wildlife warden and divisional forest officer (Jamshedpur division) Karma Bhutia said he was aware of the pollution menace, but could act only after getting an official intimation from the zoo bosses.
“Zoo officials are yet to approach me. Let them lodge a complaint. I will then take it up at the proper forum,” Bhutia promised.