Rocket science failure may endanger Sriharikota animal welfare program

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2004:

CHENNAI–A February 23 rocket fuel explosion at the Dhawan
Space Center on Sriharikota Island killed six people and threw into
chaos not only the operations of the Indian Space Research
Organization but also an ambitious draft plan by Visakha SPCA founder
Pradeep Kumar Nath to revamp the spaceport animal control program.
The explosion came three days after Nath returned home to
Visakhapatnam, 140 miles north, after a site visit.
“I was there to analyze the stray animal problems faced by
the 3,400 engineers and scientists and their families who live and
work on Sriharikota Island,” Nathtold ANIMAL PEOPLE. “The Space
Center invited us after their controller came to the Visakha SPCA to
see our activities, after trying other ways to reduce their stray
dogs, monkeys, and cattle. He was unhappy,” Nath said, “with how
dogs are killed, and monkeys also, and wanted to implement the
animal welfare laws. He took the first train to Visakhaptnam after
learning from my brother’s wife about our work.”
Nath had already heard, he said, about massive
dog-poisoning at Sriharikota, and “about the terrible way the
monkeys would be caught in a bunch and hauled alive in a small gunny
bag. Recently 35 were stuffed into one bag and all of them died due
to suffocation.”

Nath had also heard about illegal traffic in cattle culled
from among about 3,000 who roam “in the high security zone of the
actual premises of the ISRO. They enter into the VIP guest quarters
located inside of this zone and dirty their compound with dung,”
Nath said, “which I feel is a blessing, but to them it is a serious
“Sriharikota is a spindle-shaped island on the east coast of
Andhra Pradesh, north of Chennai, which was chosen in 1969 as the
site of a satellite launch station,” Nath continued. “Eucalyptus
and casuarina plantation and scrub jungle cover most parts of the
island. The wildlife I saw included jackals, wild boars, Russell
vipers, monitor lizards, hares, foxes, monkeys, jungle cats,
jungle squirrels, and mongoose. Inside the jungle are several
bodies of water used by buffalo and thousands of birds. Pulicat
Lake,” on the island, “is the second largest saltwater lagoon in
India. It is a famous feeding place for flamingoes, painted storks,
egrets, grey pelicans, grey herons, pintails, blackwinged stilts,
shovelers, teal, gulls, terns, etc. Unfortunately,” Nath found,
“fishing people along the lake shoo away the birds and shoot them
when their business is down. There is no rainfall this year in this
region. The water has been illegally used to irrigate crops, and
birds and humans are left fighting for the fish and prawns that
“Nellipatu,” nearby, “is another major bird paradise,”
Nath said, “with 326 vairities of birds coming. Both lakes have
been declared sanctuaries,” though the sanctuary status is poorly
Nath also noted olive ridley turtles nesting along the 30-mile
stretch of beach near the spaceport.
In the inhabited areas, Nath found, “The monkeys far
outnumber the dogs, as the dogs were killed until December 2003.
The disturbed balance of species affords a classic example of the
monkey population increasing when the dog population lessens. I
witnessed where a single dog was challenged for food near the dust
bin by a group of 15 monkeys and a battle ensued with monkeys having
the distinct advantage.”
“It is a fantastic area with all the ingredients of
biodiversity,” Nath continued. “It could be a major ecotourism
After the explosion, however, Nath said he was,
“Definitely worried. There could be considerable delay due to
investigations” into the cause of the disaster, Nath anticipated,
resulting in tightened security that might inhibit animal welfare
work in sensitive areas.
“Ironically, when I was there I put this question of
accident to the spaceport personnel,” Nath remembered, “and they
proudly said they had none so far. This had to happen just at the
time when we were preparing to help the animals.”

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