Death strikes white tiger den
Anxious Atal wields UP axe
Mamata plus, Cong minus
Calcutta weather

Bhubaneswar, July 5 
Nine tigers have died of a killer fly-borne disease that has struck the Nandankanan safari park, home to the largest number of white tigers in the world.

At least eight tigers are struggling for life after falling prey to trypanosomiasis, a bacterial disease that affects the brain of the animal, said Bikas Kumar Das, veterinary assistant surgeon at the zoo. The tigers in the leafy, overgrown park were infected when the flies bit them.

Nandankanan is no stranger to the disease which has killed at least three tigers in the past two years. But this is the first time that an epidemic has been reported, assistant conservator of forests Manoj Mohapatra said.

A similar epidemic killed several tigers at Darjeeling zoo a few years ago, forest officials claimed.

The Union environment ministry has directed the Calcutta zoo authorities to rush �appropriate� drugs to Bhubaneswar to treat the ailing tigers.

�The disease has been reported among tigers in the past also. In the 1970s, four tigers died at Hyderabad and three at Bangalore because of this disease,� a ministry release said.

Nandankanan reopened on April 21 after remaining closed for six months following the October super cyclone.

The storm had devastated the zoo, killing 13 mammals and 22 birds. The cages of scores of inmates, including 32 snakes and 58 birds, were knocked down, although the animals survived.

The dead tigers at Nandankanan were all healthy adults, aged between three and 13 years. Seven of them were white, belonging to the Nandankanan strain, one of the two kinds of white tigers in the world.

The other is Rewa, named after the Madhya Pradesh district where the strain originated.

Mohapatra said the disease struck mainly the adults, but the cubs were spared. He said the remaining 47 tigers at the safari park, including 25 white tigers, have been administered antibiotics as a preventive measure.

Experts were, however, not sure that the stricken animals would respond to the drugs. Park keepers said four of the affected animals died today even after they were given the medicine.

A panicky state government held a high-level meeting, chaired by chief minister Nave Patnaik. Patnaik has formed a five-member expert committee to treat the animals.

The five specialists in medicine, bacteriology, pathology, paracytology and virology were drafted from Orissa Veterinary College in Bhubaneswar.

Chief secretary S.M. Patnaik said the government had consulted experts from the Indian Veterinary Institute in Uttar Pradesh�s Izatnagar on treatment of the animals.

The Central Zoo Authority was also asked for suggestions. He said the government would spare no expenses to save the animals.

�What we are worried about is whether the sick animals will respond to the medicines. But we are keeping our fingers crossed,� the chief secretary said.

Mohapatra said a zookeeper carrying the feed into the enclosure spotted a tiger limping on Saturday. Since the tiger looked pale and disoriented, zoo officials asked the in-house vets to inspect them.

A medicine specialist from Orissa Veterinary College was called in, who suspected it to be a case of trypanosomiasis.

On Monday, 16 tigers, who were padding along the enclosure with a limp � the first symptom of the disease � were given antibiotic shots.

The medicine specialist was called in when a sick tiger, Sagar, fell into the moat surrounding the park last morning. The animal was taken to the intensive care unit at the zoo hospital, where he died in the evening.

By 11 pm, three more tigers showed the signs of contracting the disease, limping, panting and a total loss of appetite. They had not touched the food. By this morning, they were dead.

The zoo authorities sounded the alarm when five tigers dropped dead around noon and eight others fell sick.

Two of the sick were in critical condition throughout the day, but they stabilised somewhat tonight.

P.K. Roy, one of the three vets at the zoo, said the disease could strike other animals as well, but could not infect humans.

But Mohapatra, the zoo manager, said the specialists from Orissa Veterinary College had told him that the bacteria could strike only the cat family. He stressed the other animals at the zoo were not in danger.

Moreover, he said the tiger park was separated from the other enclosures. But one journalist spotted a zebra enclosure close to the tiger safari.

The chief secretary said he was not sure if the bacteria could afflict other animals.

�It is a medical question and only experts can give the answer,� he said.

Roy, a veterinary surgeon, called the disease curable provided it was diagnosed early. �But how would you know that a tiger is sick unless it shows some obvious signs of the disease. By the time you spot, it is often too late. You barely have eight hours when a tiger afflicted with the disease starts limping,� he said.

The bodies of the nine tigers have been sent for post-mortem, but the report was not immediately available.

As the dusk settled on the zoo, the bodies were cremated in a bonfire by two zookeepers near the safari park to the panicky roar of the surviving tigers.

India�s tiger popoulation has fallen to about 3,500 from 4,300 just 11 years ago largely because developments such as dams in some areas are destroying natural habitats.    

New Delhi, July 5 
Alarmed by the BJP�s panchayat poll whitewash in Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee tonight asked chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta to make way for a successor who will be better able to lead the party�s bid to retain power in the Assembly elections early next year.

The successor is likely to be Union surface transport minister Rajnath Singh, a Rajput and former head of the party�s state unit.

The current state president, Om Prakash Singh, who belongs to the backward Kurmi caste, is likely to to continue as party chief to maintain the caste equation.

The overwhelming view in the party is that since the Dalits, the backwards and minorities are with the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party, Kalyan Singh and others, the BJP should have a Rajput chief minister to consolidate its base among the upper castes who are poachable by the Congress.

Gupta, his senior Cabinet colleagues Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon, and Om Prakash Singh were summoned here today by the Prime Minister for a dinner meeting that became Gupta�s last supper.

The chief minister was told to put in his papers at the meeting held at the Prime Minister�s official residence after Vajpayee returned here late in the evening from Chennai.

This is the seventh visit of Gupta to Delhi in recent times amid speculation of his impending ouster. The Prime Minister had a two-hour meeting with him and senior central and state party leaders at his residence on June 11 to find a successor to Gupta.

But owing to strong resistance from a section of leaders, including Gupta, to Rajnath Singh succeeding him, the move was dropped.

Gupta, who narrowly escaped the gallows, had recently added one more lucky stone rings to his fingers, but did precious little to stem the rot in the administration.

This time round the stars could not influence the Prime Minister. Rampant factionalism, inefficient government and the pathetic performance in the recent panchayat elections took its toll.

Gupta, a backward caste Bania, was handpicked by Vajpayee last year after Kalyan Singh quit as chief minister before his expulsion from the party.

The central leadership gave Gupta a long rope but he could neither improve the party nor give a clean and efficient government.

A few weeks earlier the party had suffered another humiliation when it was relegated to the fourth position in the Soron assembly byelection while the Rashtriya Krantikari Party (RKP) of Kalyan Singh won the seat.    

Calcutta, July 5 
The Trinamul Congress inched closer to the majority mark in the Calcutta civic board, stunning the Congress with the desertion of councillor Shamsuzzaman Ansari.

Ansari joined Mamata Banerjee�s party this afternoon and, quoting the CMC Act, claimed that his floor-crossing could not be challenged under the anti-defection law. Trinamul did not put up a candidate against Ansari in the civic election.

�According to the CMC Act, a councillor can switch his or her political party within six months of winning an election. I have checked it,� Ansari said.

But Ansari, councillor of ward 135 in the Metiabruz area, is aware of the repercussions the decision might have in his minority-dominated constituency. �I want to make one thing very clear. I have joined Trinamul and not the BJP. Mamata Banerjee�s party is the only anti-Left force in Bengal. The public mandate is in favour of Trinamul,� Ansari said.

Presenting Ansari at a news conference at Nizam Palace, Mamata said her tally of councillors who will cast their vote in a secret ballot on Saturday in the mayoral election is now 67. The Congress is now down by one to 13.

Ask if this amounted to horse-trading, she said: �I have not split any party. If individual councillors join my party spontaneously, what can I do ?�

Trinamul sources said all its councillors have been tucked away at the Central government�s guest house at Nizam Palace and a few other places. �They will be taken in two luxury buses from Nizam Palace to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation on Friday for the swearing-in and returned under strict vigilance. On Saturday, the buses will again carry them to the CMC for the mayoral election. After the election they are free to go home,� a Trinamul leader said.

The state Congress leadership reacted with shock. �It is really very unfortunate. We will hold a meeting tomorrow chaired by state Congress chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury to discuss this issue,� said Somen Mitra, former head of the party in Bengal.

A bristling PCC general secretary Sultan Ahmed said: �On one hand, the Trinamul leader is seeking our cooperation to fight the communists while, on the other, she is trying to finish the Congress through the backdoor,� he added.

In another development, the Congress councillor from the Alimuddin Street area, Iqbal Ahmed, picked up a nomination form for contesting the mayoral polls, going against the party decision. �At tomorrow�s meeting with Barkatda, we will demand a mayoral candidate,� he said.    

Temperature: Maximum: 35.2�C (+3) Minimum: 27.3�C (+1) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 92%, Minimum: 58% Today: Hot and humid day, with possibility of light rain in some parts Sunset: 6.22 pm Sunrise: 5.00 am    

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