Is anyone watching out for Indian wildlife?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2005:

DELHI–“There is no one left to raise hell with,” People for
Animals founder and former Indian minister of state for animal
welfare lamented to ANIMAL PEOPLE on February 15, after disclosures
raised questions as to whether anyone is looking out for wildlife
within the present Indian government.
The most humiliating disclosure, had anyone been paying
attention, was that the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species on December 22 recommended that “all Parties [to
the United Nations-brokered treaty] suspend commercial trade in
specimens of CITIES-listed species with Gambia and India until
further notice.”
The suspension came because Gambia and India failed to submit
legislative plans for strengthening CITES enforcement.
The humiliation might have been acute because the CITES logo
was designed in India and India has three times chaired the CITES
standing committee.
But hardly anyone in India knew about the suspension, Times
of India correspondent Chandrika Mago disclosed on February 18.
“Even seniors in the environment ministry have just heard of
the decision,” Mago wrote. “They hope CITES will relax its stance
in a month or so.”

Hybrid lions

One of the Indian agencies responsible for CITES compliance,
the Central Zoo Authority, was preoccupied as 2005 opened with
defending itself against conservationist criticism for having allowed
endangered Asiatic lions to hybridize with African lions.
“Angry letters from non-government organizations, animal
rights activists, and even various High Commissions are demanding
clarification of how uncontrolled and unplanned breeding among
captive lions led to a condition where the main objective of
conservation–to maintain a pure gene pool–has been lost,”
summarized Bindu Shajan Perappadan of The Hindu.
“After 1992 rules were in place to disallow hybridization,
and we are certain that no cross-breeding has taken place since
2002,'” said a Central Zoo Authority spokesperson.
The Central Zoo Authority claimed that in recent years the
number of purebred Asiatic lions in captivity has risen from 81 to
131. But Indian zoos still have more than 300 hybrid lions to feed,
who will be allowed to live out their lives, zoo officials insisted.
Indeed, the hybrid lions are often among the most popular
animals at Indian zoos, looking as regal as a lion is supposed to
look, and adapting as easily to captivity as any, even if they are
not inbred enough to suit conservationist demands that zoo lions be
either distinctively Asiatic or African.
Overlooked in the furor was the likelihood that the hybrid
lions, not the purebreds, probably most resemble the lost wild
population who until recent times roamed the Middle East and Central
Asia. This was the greater portion of lion habitat, though probably
never as densely occupied by lions as the more congenial parts of

Breeding albinos

Eager to attract international support by building a
reputation for preserving endangered species, the Central Zoo
Authority was embarrassed in early January 2005 when Surojit
Mahalanobis of the Times of India published findings of an internal
audit showing a 26% decrease in the endangered species population of
Indian zoos between April 1, 2003, and March 31, 2004. The 163
recognized Indian “major zoos” and 113 “mini-zoos” and “deer parks”
began the audit period with 31,101 animals, including 9,168 members
of endangered species, but finished with 29,195 animals, only 6,771
of them endangered. The non-endangered animal count increased during
the audit by 491.
With those debacles in the headlines, the Delhi Zoo
disclosed just in time for Valentine’s Day reportage that as Bindu
Shajan Perappadan put it, “To cater to the Capital’s love for the
exotic and fair, the zoo by its own admission is busy these days
manufacturing albinos, purely for show. The animals are bred only
for novelty value and the high return they fetch in the zoo exchange
market,” Perappadan continued.
“While albinos have been exhibited and bred in Indian zoos
for a while now, the Delhi zoo is set for expansion,” Perappadan
disclosed, to include increasing the resident flock of albino
peafowl and obtaining albino blackbucks and sambars.
“Several zoos across the world have albino crow, bison, and
even sloth bears,” Perappadan added, quoting an unnamed zoo
official as hinting that the Delhi Zoo “might get lucky and have one
of these animals staying over under an exchange program.”
U.S. zoos have also deliberately bred albino animals for
exhibition and sale, most notably white tigers, but the practice is
discouraged by the American Zoo Association.

Deer disaster

The flaps over breeding occurred simultaneously with a furor
over the deaths of five deer at the Thiruvanathapatam Zoo in Kerala
state during the last six days of January, in connection with
sterilization surgery.
Zoo director C.S. Yelakki reported to the Central Zoo
Authority that two spotted deer “jumped out of their old enclosure
out of provocation, and later died owing to exhaustion,” largely
confirming the earlier explanation to The Hindu by a zoo veterinarian
that “The herd became panicky and ran helter-skelter as we started
firing the tranquilizer gun. The two deaths were owing to shock.”
In addition, Yelakki said, “Three sambar deer died a day
after the operation was carried out.”
Yelakki denied that a fourth sambar “died following a fight
between two males who had just come out of anaesthesia and were
disoriented,” as The Hindu recounted. Yelakki called the mortality,
among herds of 75 spotted deer and 110 sambar “very minimum.”
Perhaps it was, beside the deaths of three out of seven moose
who were netgunned the preceding week for the Colorado Division of
Wildlife by Quicksilver Air Inc. Quicksilver’s previous mortality
rate in airborne netgunning of ungulates was reportedly 3%,
comparable to the Thiruvanathapatam Zoo deer mortality–but the zoo
deer were penned, while the moose deaths occurred in deep snow and
rugged mountains, and still generated controversy for weeks.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife had hoped to introduce the
moose to other potentially hospitable parts of the state, to expand
the huntable population.
“The Thiruvanathapatnam zoo director essentially said it was
the fault of the deer that they died, as he is an expert,” fumed
Mrs. Gandhi. She filed a complaint to the Central Zoo Authority
about the incident but did not anticipate pursuing it further.
“The only thing I could achieve would be a ban on sterilizing
deer in zoos,” Mrs. Gandhi said.

No birds or tigers

A member of the Indian parliament aligned with the
now-minority Bharatija Janata Party, Mrs. Gandhi declared herself
equally frustrated about the failure of the present Congress Party
government to enforce protection of wildlife habitat.
“The environment minister recently announced that all the
villages that were illegally built within our sanctuaries will not
only be regularized, but will be served by paved roads now and
public buildings,” Mrs. Gandhi said. “I can’t do anything.
Everywhere I look, there is mining going on in sanctuaries. The
Keolodeo bird sanctuary in Bharatpur has no birds,” allegedly due to
water diversions for human use during an ongoing drought.
“The Sariska tiger sanctuary does not have a single tiger
left,” Mrs. Gandhi continued, “as they are all poached, and now
Ranthambor is approaching that level.
“The government has not released money [for animal welfare] for over two years,” Mrs. Gandhi added. “I went to Chennai,” where
the Animal Welfare Board of India is headquartered, “and found 1,585
files thrown into a room unopened, all of which pertained to money
to be given for Animal Birth Control hospitals, ambulances,
maintainance, training, and so forth. I opened 1, 200, finished
their procedures, sorted and computerised them, and then asked for
the monies to be released. The minister has now objected and put
them back on hold.”
Some Animal Welfare Board of India grants for Animal Birth
Control programs and other work have been paid, other sources told
ANIMAL PEOPLE, but there is general agreement that the cash flow is
slower and more uncertain than during the five years Mrs. Gandhi was
animal welfare minister, under the former BJP government–although
her tenure included frequent conflicts with civil servants who
allegedly delayed payments to retaliate against her.
Mrs. Gandhi’s allegations about Sariska and Ranthambore were
supported within days by Ranjeet S. Jamwal, Jaipur correspondent for
The Statesman, of Kolkata.
“A 15-day hunt by wildlife department teams has found no
direct signs of tiger presence in Sariska National Park,” wrote
Jamwal. “The government carried out the hunt after neither tourists
nor Sariska National Park officials spotted tigers in the park since
June 2004. A just-concluded World Wildlife Fund inquiry also yielded
no signs of tiger presence in Sariska,” which is surrounded by
illegal mining and agricultural encroachment. Aerial photographs
indicate that the park has been reduced to little more than a jagged
“X” of habitat in two ravines bisected by roads heavily traveled by
tourist vehicles.
Sariska claimed 15 to 20 tigers as recently as May 2004, and
25 to 28 in May 2003. “Officials admit the number of tigers may
have been over-reported,” Jamwal said, “and that the real number of
tigers is pretty low, if there are any left in the park.”

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