Bangladesh Slideshow

17 September, 2009

Dark Cloud over Dhaka Zoo

Dhaka Zoo is one of the biggest attractions of the city, attracting about 10,000 visitors every day. The 35 year old zoo is located on 186 acres of land in the Mirpur area of the city, and is home to approximately 2,200 animals of 157 species. There are 57 species of mammals, 61 species of birds, 11 species of reptiles, and 28 species of fish.

In recent months, the zoo has seen an ever escalating number of deaths - rising to a total of 21 by this month! A lion, a tiger and a giraffe died in the span of one week! (okay, so the tiger was 15 years old and had lost all his molars. But when he stopped eating, his keepers obviously wrote him off.) Amongst the other animals that died earlier, there was a sambar deer which died in the first week of May; a baboon, a wildebeest and the last Malayan tapir of the zoo in March; a Royal Bengal tiger, two fresh water crocodiles, one zebra and a stork in February. Zoo authorities brushed aside any reason for concern saying the deaths at the zoo so far were normal. Some were caused by tuberculosis, gangrene, and also from fighting each other, they said, while others died of old age complications.

Last year alone the zoo spent USD 800,000 bringing 38 animals, including giraffe, zebra, oryx, wildebeest, impala, greater kudu, common elan, horse, donkey and kangaroo, from South Africa. Among the newly procured animals, the first casualty occurred when a greater kudu died in the quarantine shed within 15 days of its arrival. Eight others - two kangaroos, one impala, two oryx, two other greater kudus and one mountain zebra - died within the next four months. According to the (now suspended) curator, deaths up to 30 percent of a new lot is normal. “It is absolutely normal to expect a few deaths when animals are introduced to a new environment,” he had said in an interview around that time.

The lone one-horned rhinoceros of the zoo has been suffering from Pyometra disease (an extremely painful uterine infection that requires surgery) for the last year and a half. Besides, a horse, a samber, and a kudu are also ill. A prevalence of foot and mouth disease (FMD) among the cloven-hoofed animals at the zoo has been reported. Numerous medical boards have been formed for their treatment, but the 'expertise' of the boards is in serious doubt. The rhino needs to undergo surgery but the zoo does not have any such facilities. The giraffe (only 3 years old!) had stopped eating/drinking from 1st Sep and died from absolute dehydration a week later. The diagnosis? Suspected intestinal complications! The male of the pair was absolutely traumatized by his partner's untimely death and stopped eating! The giraffe death prompted government officials to suspend the zoo's chief and his deputy and to launch an enquiry, but it is obvious that more action is needed.

The eight years and three months old lion was found dead in its cage in the morning. The lion had been born in captivity at another zoo in the country and brought to Dhaka zoo in 2002. He had been suffering from paralysis for the last year and a half and was unable to move. “The condition of the lion was good till 7:00 pm on Wednesday but it was found dead this morning,” said an officer who takes care of the mammals at the zoo, claiming that the lion was being provided with 'better treatment'.

Asked how many animals are now sick, the acting curator told a leading newspaper correspondent that they do not have any such account! It is obvious that health care management is falling part at the zoo, and prompt action is needed to prevent more deaths.
The cages and enclosures of the zoo are of very poor standard. Even a semi-natural environment for the animals cannot be ensured due to lack of budget and space. The cleanliness of the animal dwellings leave a lot to be desired (I have not been able to even stand in front of cages for the fecal smells!). The food is often inadequate in quantity and inferior in quality (keepers often slice off meat and feed only the bones to the animals or buy rotten fruit at a cheap rate, pocketing the difference). The zoo is understaffed, and caring for the large number of animals have become a burden for the limited number of keepers. The keepers furthermore are untrained in animal care, and overall, the zoo authorities lack expertise in wildlife care.

“Dhaka zoo is run by vets who don’t know the eating habits and wildlife environment of the animals they keep,” said Reza Khan, Bangladesh’s top wildlife expert who heads Dubai Zoo in the United Arab Emirates. Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh Chief Professor Anwarul Islam said, "They (the zoo authorities) don't have a wildlife biologist and the veterinarian cannot properly maintain the zoo." The zoo is for wildlife, not livestock - a concept that clearly seems to be missing in Bangladesh, as far as animal care is concerned.

A slum has been mushrooming adjacent to the zoo boundary (just behind the area that houses the horses and giraffes), and the slum dwellers often disturb/scare the animals. The domestic animals kept by the slum dwellers, and indeed their own unsanitary toilets, and lack of cleanliness, may also be a source of fatal infections for the zoo inmates.
It is quite obvious that the reasons behind the deaths of this animals are negligence, inadequate care, inexperience, poor living conditions and most important, indifference. The attitude of our zoo authorities has become glaringly clear through this series of deaths: caring for wild animals in a country where millions starve and lack access to healthcare is a luxury. The authorities also seem to be in total ignorance of modern zoo standards and practices. Do the Bangladesh zoos even comply with the lowest acceptable practices, as determined by the Global Zoo Community?
Let me tell you the definition of a substandard zoo. It is one which "doesn’t know how", "doesn’t care" (deliberately substandard) and "cannot afford it". Bangladeshi zoos are all of the above! Our substandard zoos convey the unfortunate subliminal messages such as 'wildlife is cheap', 'authorities don’t seem to care therefore wildlife is plentiful' and 'wild animals are pathetic and not valued'. These zoos also have an overall negative impact on animal welfare - unsuitable living environments for animals, lack of husbandry and veterinary care and expertise such as sanitation (inadequate sanitation could cause the spread of diseases), nutrition, preventative medicine, etc. The attitude of the authorities also prompt visitor misbehavior such as feeding, teasing, violence, causing stress to animals, etc.
If we want to have zoos with healthy animals, we must seek assistance from those who know and can help. Otherwise, we must close the zoos down and send the animals to better homes.
(Photos courtesy: The Daily Star)