CAG audit reveals glaring gaps in animal health care in Bengaluru and other state zoos

Audit reveals short/excess procurement of food, lack of adequate trained staff, and treatment facilities, etc., plaguing animals in the state’s zoos.

Almost all of us have fond memories of visiting a zoo and seeing a zebra or giraffe for the first time. The pleasure and knowledge children derive from a visit to the zoo cannot be overstated. It is, therefore, essential to run zoos in a manner that balances the interests of the animals along with the comfort and convenience of the visitor. Some of the main challenges zoos face across the globe are lack of space, social stress, managing visitors, and maintaining the health of their animals. Besides food poisoning, zoo animals also suffer due to animal-human conflict and lack of veterinary care for diseases like hepatitis, tick fever etc.

In the last three years, the Delhi zoo alone has lost around 450 animals, including tigers and lions due to health reasons. In Bengaluru’s Bannerghatta National Park, 263 animals died between April 2020 and March 2021.

Karnataka has a total of 13 zoos, out of which nine are under the jurisdiction of the Zoo Authority of Karnataka (ZAK). The Office of the Accountant General (ER&SA) conducted a comprehensive audit of the functioning of zoos from April 2014 to March 2019 in order to delve deeper into these aspects.

One way to be aware of issues of impropriety and poor performance in local government bodies and departments is to track the audit reports from agencies like the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).

This article is the ninth in the Series: Understanding Public Project Audits, by experts from the Indian Accounts and Audit Service.

Read more: Bannerghata zoo has work to do

The audit objectives were to test:

  • Whether the nine zoos under ZAK were functioning as per the provisions of the Act
  • Whether rules, guidelines, and circulars issued for achieving their objective of ex-situ conservation, the welfare of animals, research, education, and visitor management were being followed.

The audit examined the records at the office of the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (APCCF) and Member Secretary, Zoo Authority of Karnataka, besides the offices of the Executive Directors of the nine zoos.

Photo courtesy link:
Pig-tailed Macaque enclosure at Bengaluru Bannerghatta Biological Park. Pic courtesy: bannerghattabiologicalpark

Read more: Why a shrinking Bannerghatta forest should worry Bengalureans

Some important observations

  • Every zoo in the country is required to obtain recognition from the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (Act) annually. The purpose of this exercise is to verify standards related to animal upkeep and visitor facilities. Recognition is given for a period of one year. As of March 2020, recognition had lapsed for eight out of the nine zoos managed by ZAK. In two cases, i.e. zoos in Chitradurga and Kalaburgi, recognition was suspended on account of failure to provide full-time in-charge officers, failure to remove domestic animals, and failure to provide a refuge for rescued animals etc. Despite this, the zoos were open to the public.
  • The RZR rules (Recognition of Zoo Rules, 2009) stipulate that zoos were to prepare a Master Plan for long-term development on scientific lines and get approval thereof from the CZA within one year from the date of commencement of these rules. The Master plan should have been preceded by a Master Layout plan showing the location of green belts, lawns, gardens, animal display areas, visitor facilities, support infrastructure buildings for administrative and maintenance units etc. The Master Plans of the zoos should have been approved by November 2010. Out of nine zoos, three viz., Mysuru zoo, Bengaluru Bannerghatta Park (BBP), and Kamalapur zoo had approved Master Plans, though with a significant delay of three and four years, respectively. The rest did not have approved Master Plans as of March 2020.
  • Animals are the heart of any zoo and hence having proper veterinary care facilities is paramount. However, only Rs 5.16 crore was released out of the Rs 11.40 crore planned. As per approved Master Plans, the zoos planned to spend Rs 92.54 crores on development activities such as building enclosures, parks, construction of parks, and creating amenities for visitors etc. However, the amount released and spent was only Rs 61.22 crore.
  • All zoos, except mini zoos, are supposed to have a well-equipped veterinary hospital, including an operation theatre and an observation room. Mini zoos should at least have a treatment room. Further, all zoos should also have feed stores, basic monitoring equipment (stethoscope, digital thermometer etc.), post-mortem set, emergency first aid kit for animals, medicine/anaesthesia kit, cold storage for keeping emergency medicines etc. Such infrastructure was not in place in seven of the nine zoos. In Gadag, the hospital was not operational till January 2020 though its construction was completed in March 2019. The mini zoos at Kalaburgi, Davanagere and Chitradurga did not have treatment rooms.
  • All staff involved with the upkeep and healthcare of zoo animals need to be screened against zoonotic diseases once every year and those found positive for any communicable disease should be provided appropriate treatment till they get cured. However, health screening of zookeepers for zoonotic diseases was not conducted in any of the zoos, except Mysuru zoo, where screening was conducted only once in the five-year period covered by the audit.
  • All the zoos were holding animals (spotted deer, blackbuck, sambar, and leopards) in excess of permitted levels as adequate population control measures were not in place.
  • Animals in enclosures were in excess of permitted norms. In six zoos, as against 20 herbivores in each enclosure i.e. a total of 120 herbivores (spotted deer/blackbuck), the actual number was 354 spotted deer and 201 blackbucks, a surplus of 234 spotted deer and 101 blackbucks. Overcrowding of animals in an enclosure not only violates the CZA norms but also increases food expenses and as a result maintenance cost of the zoos also increases. Hence, overcrowding/surplus animals in enclosures and zoological parks need to be avoided.
  • The bear rescue centre at Bannerghatta is maintained by Wildlife SOS, a Non-Government Organisation (NGO). During the audit, nine out of 86 sloth bears died due to Tuberculosis (TB). To ensure that contagious diseases do not spread from the animal keepers to the animals, they also need to be screened to make sure that they were not infected by any diseases. However, Audit did not observe any evidence of screening being conducted in the rescue centre.
  • Audit noticed excess/short procurement of different food items in the zoos with reference to diet charts. For example, Gadag zoo had procured roughly half the requirement of both beef and chicken. In Kamalapur, Shivamogga, and BBP, the procurement of chicken exceeded the requirement by 250% to 274%. In Kamalapur, Belagavi, and Davanagere zoos, procurement of six vegetarian items was less than the requirement. Procurement of feed and fodder lesser than the planned diet chart indicated that nutrients as required are not provided to the animals. While procurement below requirement is likely to have had an adverse impact on the health of the animals, the matter of excess procurement needs to be examined from the perspective of propriety, wastage etc.
  • Audit noticed different education programmes in only three zoos, Mysuru, BBP and Shivamogga. Programmes like summer/ winter camp, youth club, zoo in-reach and out-reach activities, conservation talks, veterinary training for forest personnel, workshops etc. were conducted. In other zoos, there were no Education Officers/Resource Persons and hence no activities were conducted.
  • Mysuru zoo booked an expenditure of Rs 26.03 lakh towards research activities like article publishing in zoo journals etc. However, only Rs 8.80 lakh was spent on research while the major portion, Rs 17.23 lakh was spent on non-research activities like road survey, website designing, purchase of mementoes for events etc. The diversion of funds for non-research activities was irregular.
  • The Cadre and Recruitment Rules (C&R Rules) for different posts were approved by the government only in January 2020. In the absence of C&R Rules, the manpower requirements of the zoos were met by the deployment of outsourced staff. The staff deployed was more than the sanctioned posts in the zoos i.e., 762 personnel posted against the sanctioned strength of 388 posts. The matter needs to be examined for corrective action.
A leopard at Bannerghatta zoo
A leopard at the zoo. Pic courtesy: Deepa Mohan

The state government acknowledged the findings and accepted the recommendations. The Report was placed at the state legislature on 9th December 2020.

The full report can be accessed here.

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