Maneka claims cabinet post for animals
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1998:
NEW DELHI, India––”You will
be happy to know that I have finally gotten
the animal welfare department, which is the
first of its kind anywhere in the world,”
People For Animals founder Maneka Gandhi
e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE on
“It is now a part of my ministry,”
Maneka said, as welfare minister for the government
of India, “and I would like to make
it into a full-fledged department.”
A senior independent member of
the Indian parliament, representing her New
Delhi district since 1989, Maneka is among
the power brokers in the coalition government
of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya
Janata party. She may actually have more
clout now than she did during two appointments
as environment minister while a member
of the Janata Dal party, from which she
was ousted in 1996 for denouncing alleged
corruption among fellow ministers.
To create an independent animal
welfare department has been Maneka’s first
ambition since she entered politics, she told
ANIMAL PEOPLE over lunch during the
1997 national conference of the Animal
Welfare Board of India.
The Animal Welfare Board has
advisory authority, a small budget, some
deputized inspectors, and a constitutional
mandate to prevent animal suffering, but it
cannot actually make and enforce policy.
The chief inspection powers pertaining to animals
in India, as in the U.S., are split among
departments with other mandates––and often,
inherent conflicts of interest.
Maneka explained to A N I M A L
PEOPLE that she would like to bring all of
the animal-related inspection services together
in one branch of government which would
answer to no other, would vigorously implement
the recommendations of the Animal
Welfare Board, and would uphold the unique
provision in Article 51-A of the Indian constitution
that the people of India have a moral
obligation to prevent animal suffering.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE went to
press, no further information about whatever
Maneka has accomplished was available.
Daily searches of major Indian newspapers
produced no menton of it.
Help In Suffering president
Christine Townend, director of two animal
sanctuary/hospitals in India and a longtime
personal friend of Maneka, was in Concord,
California, on September 11 to address a plenary
session of the fourth annual No-Kill
Conference. Traveling when Maneka con-
tacted ANIMAL PEOPLE, Townend hadn’t
heard a word about it.
Nor had conference participants
Bonny and Ratilal Shah, who head both the
Ahimsa charity of Texas and the animal welfare
committee of JAINA, the American Jain
religious and cultural organization.
Whatever Maneka is up to, though,
the timing for animals couldn’t be better.
Noting the success of the Animal Birth Control
program pioneered 30 years ago by the Blue
Cross of India in Chennai (Madras), and
actively encouraging it through most of the
years since, the Animal Welfare Board in
December 1997 recommended that India
should pursue achieving no-kill animal control
nationwide by 2005. No-kill policies were
already in effect in Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi,
Jaipur, and several other major cities.
The recommendation was ratified by
the government in power then––but that government
was toppled by the Bharatiya Janata
coalition in March 1998.
Animal Welfare Board president
Lieutenant General (retired) Ashoke Kumar
Chaterjee, a staunch ally of Maneka’s, retired
and was replaced by Guman Mal Lodha, a
longtime back-bencher in Parliament whom
Maneka vigorously denounced from the floor
at the 1997 Animal Welfare Board meeting for
his role in decertifying a wildlife sanctuary to
encourage nearby industrial development.
In Mumbai, Bombay SPCA president
Ratan N. Tata retired after four years as
president and was replaced Sir Dinshaw
Manockjee Petit, 4th Baronet, a 15-year
member of the board––who died suddenly on
March 30, at age 64, on a trip to Amsterdam.
Townend, badly mauled in April by
a street dog, spent the summer recovering in
her native Australia.
Dogs vs. cows
With much of the Indian humane
leadership temporarily distracted, and the
Indian economy stagnant, though resisting the
collapse afflicting much of the rest of Asia,
populists in Mumbai and elsewhere seized
upon still abundant homeless dogs as an easy
problem to “solve” by creating patronage
jobs––in this case, to kill dogs. (See page six.)
There was a cultural undercurrent to
the anti-dog backlash. Many Indians, like
other Asians, perceive dogs as unclean––a
belief associated with fear of rabies, and also
associated, among many Hindus and some
Jains, with the carnivorous nature of dogs.
Strict Hindus of the educated classes, and all
Jains, are supposed to be lacto-vegetarian.
Though Mohandas Gandhi made a public point
of petting dogs, humane work centering on
dogs tends to be regarded by some nationalists
and fundamentalists as a presumptuous British
imposition on a nation whose Lord Krishna
reputedly founded cattle sanctuaries, called
gaushalas or pinjrapols, 5,000 years ago.
Dog rescue is urban-oriented; cattle
rescue is rural. Cows are holy; dogs are profane.
Maneka, a feminist radical as well as a
nationalist, is satirized for her love of dogs,
while Guman Mal Lodha, a conservative,
defended himself against her charge of
improperly delisting the sanctuary by proclaiming,
“I would give my life for a cow.”
Fundamentalists may have seen the
rise of the Bharatiya Janata party as a sign that
cow rescue would regain primacy in the perennial
pursuit of government funding. But the
gaushala faction was almost immediately
embarrased when incoming Rajasthan governor
Darbara Singh ordered an investigation of
the deaths of more than 3,000 cattle at gaushalas
in Jaipur and Dausa.
“A state-appointed commission on
cow conservation found that a large number of
deaths were due to poor health or starvation,”
The Times of India reported. “The state gives
the gaushalas a subsidy of three rupees a day
for each cow, but the funds are not being used
properly, it is alleged.”
That’s just what Maneka charged,
years earlier. She and allies, all derided as
dog-lovers, had complained for years about
unscrupulous g a u s h a l a managers allegedly
allowing cattle to starve, in order to sell their
hides for leather. Slaughtering cattle is legally
difficult in India, but selling leather goods
made from cattle who supposedly died naturally
is so ubiquitous that it is almost impossible
even to find a nonleather belt for sale.
Apart from defending and expanding
humane dog care and control policies, and
policing gaushalas, Maneka’s animal welfare
department will have no lack of other work.
But she also still has strong colleagues
in humane work, including Blue Cross
of India vice president S. Chinny Krishna,
who recently denounced Indian film makers in
The Hindu for not at least equaling Hollywood
in setting good examples of how animals
should be treated.
Before the Bharatiya Janata government
demonstrated Indian nuclear might with a
series of underground test blasts in the
Rajasthan desert, near Pakistan, such complaints
were typically dismissed with the
excuse that India can’t match western standards
due to poverty. Now that India claims to
be part of the First World elite, crying poor no
longer seems to satisfy much of the media.
On September 18 The Times of India
covered an address to Bangalore bullock cart
drivers by Chamrajpet legislator Premila
Nesargi. Organized by Compassion Unlimited
Plus Action, the Animal Welfare Board, the
city police, and the Bangalore department of
animal husbandry, the presentation “aimed to
educate the cartmen of the city market and surrounding
areas on the laws regarding permissible
loads for animal-drawn vehicles,” the article
“Premila told the surprised cartmen
how there are special parlors abroad for dogs
and shoes for horses. ‘You will not believe,
the dogs also have their own tailors who stitch
the correct size of clothes for them,’ she said.
The lawyer-cum-politician, who is just back
from a trip to Britain, Belgium, Holland,
Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and the United
Arab Emirates, advised the cart owners to take
good care of their animals, like their counterparts
in foreign countries.”
Anyone familiar with any of those
nations must have wondered just where she
went, to encounter both dog-tailors and bullock-carts.
But evidently no one inquired.
Premila reportedly went on to ask
the Bangalore police to set up scales at various
checkpoints to see if carts are overloaded.
Among her other crusades, Maneka
has demanded higher standards of Indian
wildlife viewing sites for more than 20 years.
She has pointed out that while building cages
may cost more money than the operators of
most zoos are willing or able to spend, India
still has abundant animals in the wild, who
can be readily observed, are already a major
source of tourist revenue, and could generate
far more revenue both from visitors and from
Indians themselves, if properly protected and
appreciated. This includes developing ways of
watching the animals without stressing them.
Having seen for herself several of
the leading zoos and aquariums in the U.S.,
Maneka argues that India should build facilities
of at least equal quality near each big city,
both improving conditions for captive widlife
and creating countless jobs in construction,
maintenance, and animal care.
These sites should be stocked, she
contends, with animals rescued from the many
substandard roadside zoos around the country,
if the rescued animals are not suitable for
return to the wild. Then, the relatively few
top-quality zoos should be managed as educational
institutions, to teach Indian children the
importance of protecting and expanding the
many sanctuaries and national parks which in
recent years have been poached and plundered
as quasi-commons, under a “sustainable use”
policy which proclaims lip service to the management
paradigm of the World Wildlife Fund.
Unlike WWF, which advocates trophy
hunting, most Indian states discourage or
forbid sport hunting in any form, but allow
just about any other use of wildlife reserves.
Thus villagers fearlessly herd cattle through
some “tiger sanctuaries” which now contain
fewer tigers than tourist jeeps. Where the
tigers are may perhaps be identified––if they
descend into the grasslands––from the incessant
honking of jeeps racing toward them.
Named for Maneka’s late husband,
who was killed in a 1981 airplane crash, the
Sanjay Gandhi National Wildlife Park near
Mumbai proposed to introduce jeep tours
beginning on October 1. Ahimsa in September
filed suit seeking to halt the plan, arguing that
the 40 resident panthers and leopards, 21
lions, and four tigers need fewer people in
their habitat, not more.
Sanjay Gandhi park conservator
A.R. Bharti claims the purpose of the tours
will be public education. Ahimsa counters that
they will amount to commercial exploitation,
in violation of the 1980 Forest Conservation
Act. This could put Maneka right in the middle,
since she favors improving public education
about wildlife, especially at parks and
reserves, but as environment minister ran into
political trouble time and again for fighting
commercial exploitation of protected habitat.
Ahimsa won a late August verdict
from the Bombay High Court that the Sanjay
Gandhi National Park wildlife rehabilitation
center at Borivili does not constitute adequate
provision for sick and injured wildlife as
required by the 1960 Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals Act. Reinforcing an opinion issued
on March 16, the court directed Maharashtra
state to create at least one more wildlife rehabilitation
center and several infirmaries for
domesticated animals before November 9.
Maharashtra state attorney R.V.
Govilkar had argued that the 2,073 veterinary
clinics in the state were adequate to treat the
number of animals in need. The ratio of vets
to humans in Maharashtra is about 1-to-
50,000, a tenth of the U.S. ratio.
The Central Zoo Authority of India
and the Union Ministry of Environment and
Forests, under former environment and forests
minister Saifuddin Soz, in October 1997
moved to close 66 roadside zoos and seven
larger facilities for not meeting care standards.
Soz urged even the National Zoo in Delhi to
add more staff scientists, improve veterinary
care, and do better longterm planning.
To hold all the animals from the zoos
which were to be closed, the CZA proposed to
add five regional rescue centers to the best
existing zoos, promising that “The entire cost
of developing these centers and maintenance
costs would be borne by the CZA.”
On December 8, 1997, after the
CZA motion was ratified by the Animal
Welfare Board, the CZA directed the
Children’s Park at Guindy, near Chennai, to
manage itself “exclusively for domestic biodiversity,”
to conserve rare indigenous breeds of
livestock, such as cattle, goats, camels, peacocks,
and jungle fowl, and to transfer an
estimated 800 representatives of wild species
to the Arignar Anna Zoological Park, in the
This would reportedly make the 22-
acre Children’s Park Zoo, founded in 1959,
the first zoo in India to focus on domestic animals.
Black buck, elephants, panthers, barking
deer, sloth bears, slender lorises, crocodiles,
pythons, and erns would all go to the
vastly larger Arignar Anna facility
“The park is an important revenue earner for
the State Department of Forests, and once the
animals are shifted to Vandular, it stands to
lose its charm and revenue.”
Not surprisingly, the transfer has not
actually been scheduled.
The Arignar Anna zoo is already
implementing some of Maneka’s other ideas.
Many of the animals are former “nuisance
wildlife,” including 500 spotted deer who
were removed from the adjacent Tambaram
Air Force Station in a series of five drives
commenced in August 1997, and an Indian
bison who was captured in a sugar cane field
near Thirukkazhukkundram on March 24, at
least 100 miles from the nearest wild bison
herd. The deer and bison are to enjoy a new
2,500-acre safari-style habitat among former
eucalyptus and cashew plantations.
The Arignar Ann zoo is also cleaning
up Otteri Lake, located on the grounds,
where naturalists counted 70 migratory bird
species during the winter of 1996-1997. The
zoo hopes to attract more by removing silt and
rubbish, restoring fish, and planting shrubbery
appropriate for perching and nesting
along the banks. The birds are to be discreetly
viewed from walk-in platforms.
Three days after taking in a pair of
female sloth bears who were rescued from a
traveling show, Arignar Ann zoo director N.
Krishna Kumar and assistant conservator of
forests P. Krishnan on September 19 jointly
introduced a Zoo Club similar to youth docent
programs at U.S. zoos. The club grew out of a
series of four one-day “zoo classes” held for
school children last May.
The initial group of 40 participants,
one from each local school, were required to
pass an entrance examination, and will attend
20 special classes during the next six months.
Another 110 participants are to be enrolled
before the end of the year. Each youth is to
work at the zoo for two years, with care
responsibilities for a particular animal.
Their chief duties, Kumar told T h e
H i n d u, will be to educate visitors about the
animals, prevent visitors from teasing animals,
and prevent littering.
The importance of those chores was
emphasized on September 14 by Mohit Dubey
of The Times of India, who reported from
Lucknow that “as many as 65 animals have
lost their lives due to carelessness and vandalism
by visitors to the Prince of Wales Zoo this
year.” Persons convicted of abusing zoo animals
may be fined about $50, but unarmed
zoo guards are ineffective in apprehending the
guilty parties, Dubey wrote.
“Laws are meaningless,” zoo director
G.P. Sharma told Dubey. “until proper
efforts are made to make people understand
that callousness and adventurism costs the
poor speechless animals a lot.”
In Delhi for the World Hindu
Council, Swami Vasudevanand Saraswati did
his part, more or less, by demanding a ban on
plastic bags––to protect cows, however, not
zoo animals. Necropsies of street cows,
Saraswati claimed, had found their stomachs
stuffed with up to 110 pounds of plastic, causing
them painful convulsive deaths.
The directors of some of India’s
other major zoos need educating too, recent
reports from the Calcutta Zoo suggest.
Observing rats nibbling the tail and shrivelled
limbs of a 24-year-old terminally ill liger, an
artificially bred tiger/lion hybrid, who has lost
most of her hair and developed body sores,
Purnima Toolsidas of Compassionate Crusaders
Trust in June begged the Central Zoo
Authority in New Delhi to order euthanasia.
“It will be worthwhile to see how
long the liger can survive,” responded
Calcutta Zoo director Adhir B. Das.
The Central Zoo Authority of India
appointed a committee to study the case.
Three months later, the liger is still alive and
suffering. Das and news media frequently
refer to her as the purported last of a rare
species, ignoring that ligers are not actually a
species, and apparently unaware that the
Wildlife Waystation sanctuary, of Angeles
National Forest, California, has 27 ligers.
The Shambala Preserve, 20 miles north, has
another liger who may be the biggest on
record. Ligers are in fact common in U.S.
sanctuaries, since private collectors continue
to breed them for sale to the gullible, who
dump them when they become hard to handle.
Founded in 1875, the Calcutta Zoo
is among the oldest continuously operating
zoos in the world. The Arignar Anna zoo is
among the newest in India––but it also promotes
animal novelties. In April, for instance,
the Arignar Anna zoo bought a male Bengal
tiger with the recessive gene for white stripes.
The object is to mate him to a female already
at the zoo who also has the recessive gene, to
produce zebra-striped cubs––the opposite of
what would happen if the animals were bred to
maximize genetic diversity. If that were done,
there might never be white-striped tigers.
Competition to breed white-striped
tigers, in fairness, is not unique to India. To
the quiet annoyance of the American Zoo
Association, the Philadelphia Zoo, Marine
World Africa USA, and the Siegfried & Roy
Circus (not in the AZA) have also recently
bred and promoted white-striped cubs.
A 5,000-acre lion safari park to be
situated east of the Taj Mahal may help introduce
the new age of wildlife exhibition that
Maneka has in mind. Uttar Pradesh state forest
minister R.D. Varma told media last spring
that the park is to be be developed in conjunction
with a Taj Nature Walk trail. Initially it is
to contain eight “surplus” Asiatic lions
obtained from zoos in Kanpur and Lucknow.
Varna said the state government of Gujarat had
agreed to send more lions from the Gir forest,
their crowded last major wild habitat, where
about 300 lions share 180,000 acres.
The Gujarat government recently
authorized the Usha Bresco Company to build
a ropeway through the Gir forest, discussed
since 1958, to deliver visitors to 19 temples in
the Girnar hills. The Jain group Mahajanam,
the Viniyog Parivar Trust, and the Bombay
Natural History Society have all objected.
“The ropeway will increase the risk
of poaching,” charged BNHS director Asad
Poaching rings were
reportedly broken in the Beed area during late
August and in New Delhi circa midSeptember,
but confidence that India can stop
poaching isn’t likely to develop until and
unless the notorious Koose Munuswamy
Veerappan can be brought to justice. Boasting
of having gotten away with 34 years of illegally
killing wildlife and stealing logs,
Veerappan, 48, is believed to have murdered
at least 100 people to cover his crimes, including
27 law officers.
Authorities in Karnataka and Tamil
Nadu states hoped in May that Veerappan was
cornered and might surrender. But instead,
taunting his pursuers with tape recorded messages,
Veerappan kidnapped a lawyer and two
journalists in late May. The hostages were rescued
in June, and seven Veerappan associates
were arrested after a series of shoot-outs, but
Veerappan himself remained at large.
Summer cyclones and late moonsoons
added natural disaster to many nature
reserves’ problems. As many as 20,000
flamingos normally nest near Surajbari, in
Kutch, especially at the Wild Ass Sanctuary
of Little Rann, but only about 150 lesser
flamingos and 350 greater flamingos survived
a July 9 storm. Birdwatchers told Shyam
Parekh of The Times of India that most of the
flamingos’ nesting islands were submerged,
and that windblown flamingo carcasses were
snagged in electrical wires by the thousand.
In mid-September, tigers, wild pigs,
monkeys, and hooved animals reportedly fled
into Nepal from four flooded sanctuaries in
northern Uttar Pradesh.
At least 544 animals including 45
Asian rhinos, 429 hog deer, 20 buffalo, 17
boar, 10 sambar, nine porcupines, eight
swamp deer, six elephants, two civets, a fishing
cat, and three snakes died during floods
that inundated the Kaziranga National Park in
Assam. Of the rhinos, 31 drowned while
poachers shot nine, taking advantage of the
inability of rangers to give pursuit. The park
management built more than 100 berms for
animals to stand on while the water was high,
but 68 of the berms subsequently washed out.
The flooding hit just after Kaziranga
field director Bishan Singh Bonai announced
that the resident tiger population was up from
29 in 1972 to 80. The initial increase in tiger
numbers roughly paralleled a rise in the
swamp deer population, from 213 in 1966 to a
high of 756 by 1984. But the tigers have continued
to increase; the deer have not. Severe
floods in 1988, 1990, 1991, and 1992 as well
as grassfires had cut the herd back to circa 500.
Hemendra De, superintendent of the
Sarthana Zoo, in the Varachha area of
Ahmedabad, near Surat, struggled in
September to keep a pregnant four-horned
antelope and about 50 other animals above the
Tapi river. An aviary at Chowk Bazar was
reportedly also jeopardized.
With 50,000 human lives at risk,
and 2,000 already known dead from the monsoon
disaster, saving wildlife was a low priority
for most public officials.
Going to the rats
Surat was on edge about a different
sort of animal problem, as an outbreak of
bubonic plague transmitted by rats hit the
region after similar flooding in 1994, and
hordes of rats, fleeing the rising waters, were
again in evidence. Maneka warned Surat officials
in 1994 that their practice of killing stray
dogs had allowed rats to proliferate unchecked,
and recently issued reminders.
Public health authorities in several
parts of India earlier this year tried––as they
often have before––to banish dogs from charity
hospitals. Alleged consequences included a
case of a newborn girl being chewed to death
by rats at a hospital nursery in Jaipur, and a
reported catastrophic failure of federally sponsored
birth control programs.
According to S.N.M. Abdi, Calcutta
correspondent for the South China Morning
P o s t, health officials in New Delhi
“approached the United Nations and a Danish
aid agency to fund warehouses” to hold birth
control devices because “rats have chewed
holes in millions of condoms stored in the
open at primary health centers in villages and
small towns. Rodents and the weather,” Abdi
continued, “have also damaged bulk consignments
of the contraceptive pill and intra-uterine
devices. The government was alerted by
the poor results of family planning measures.”
About 25% of the condoms inspected,
Abdi indicated, had been rat-chewed.