The Telegraph
Saturday , March 16 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hisssssss… black bucks get goosebumps

Noon had a sinister hiss on Friday at Tata Steel Zoological Park, Jamshedpur.

A 6ft golden brown snake slithered into the enclosure of endangered black bucks at the zoo, scaring the living daylights out of the antelopes on Friday around noon, three months after a white cobra nearly killed one of the prized South African lion cubs.

The snake — seen by caretakers and private security guards who unanimously said it “hissed” but gave conflicting names ranging from chitti to cobra — stayed put at the enclosure for over 15 minutes, even giving arrogant photo ops for cameras, before it swished off to the adjoining Jubilee Park nursery.

Later, when The Telegraph contacted city snake catcher and expert N.K. Singh, he said it was an unusual-looking cobra.

In December first week, a 7ft white cobra had sneaked into the pure-bred African lion enclosure, where cubs Zoya, Salya and Ed knocked it about playfully without knowing it wasn’t actually a moving rope trick.

True enough, on Friday, most of the frightened black bucks numbering around 30, ran helter-skelter on seeing the golden reptile. Some young ones intrepid enough to come closer and inspect the snake got an angry hiss as response. They got the message.

Senior zoo authorities such as director Bipul Chakravarty and vet Manik Palit were not around when the incident occurred.

Rajnish Kumar, managing panel member of Tata Steel Zoological Society, when contacted, said he was in Ranchi. “I can’t comment on the incident from here. I will take feedback from the zoo director. We are all concerned about the safety of our animals,” he added.

Tata zoo boasts of 400 animals, many endangered. For instance, the black buck, native to the Indian subcontinent, is classified “near-threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2003.

However, snake catcher Singh said the slithery visitors, poisonous or otherwise, could not be stopped from entering the zoo premises.

“Snakes can easily enter the 92-acre Tata zoo. From Subernarekha, which flows nearby, snakes just need to cross the Marine Drive and sneak into the zoo. But precautionary measures can be adopted to reduce their entry,” Singh told The Telegraph.

After the white cobra attack, which almost killed African cub Zoya, Tata zoo started spraying a reptile repellent in lion, tiger, leopard and sloth bear enclosures. The spray, designed to be non-fatal for animals, is composed of 60 per cent water as well as disinfectant Bio-Clean, kerosene and neem oil.

Now, zoo functionaries will include the deer enclosures under the ambit of the spray.

But snakes are not the only unfriendly trespassers. Stray dogs sniff and growl near deer enclosures. In 2006, stray dogs had killed nine hog deer.

A hiss and bark too many for one of the best-run zoos of India.

How can snakes be barred from the zoo permanently?