Op-Ed: Among The Best In The Country

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Nandankanan zoo on the outskirts of the capital city is among the major tourist attractions of the state. Carved out of the Chandaka forest its natural surroundings draw a lot of people who want to see wild animals in an environment that does not make them look like the members of a circus.

The zoological park, known specially for its white tigers, has over the years evolved into one of the best of its kind in the country. It has witnessed accidents and controversies but learnt from each experience and today its animal care is rated among the best.

The day in the zoo begins with veterinary doctors and the keepers making rounds of the animal and bird enclosures, administering medicines and vaccines required by them. Health records of the animals in each enclosure are maintained meticulously in separate registers. This is more or less like patient-care in a hospital. If an animal is found sick, its condition is monitored constantly.

The healthcare routine followed by the zoo is reflected in its declining mortality rate. Statistics show animal mortality in Nandankanan reduced from 90 deaths in 2004-2005 to 44 in 2008-2009. With this kind of care the zoo authorities have avoided major tragedies.

But this was not the case always. Ten tigers had died in the zoo in July 2000 of trypanosomiasis, a disease that causes lethargy and weakness. Stinging flies spread the parasites that cause the disease. The tigers ran high fever, became weak, stopped eating, and died within a few days of one another. The incident made front-page headlines with zoo authorities being accused of negligence.

But the tragedy proved to be a turning point for the zoo. In 2002, the Centre for Wildlife Health was set up in the Veterinary College of the Orissa University of Agriculture Technology, Bhubaneswar, with initial funding from the Central Zoo Authority. The centre helped Nandankanan develop a healthcare system that emphasized parasite management because preventing infections caused by parasites is the most important aspect of healthcare in a zoo.

The emphasis is on checking animals for ticks, lice, fleas and mites. These parasites live on the blood of the animals and transmit diseases. Parasites like roundworms, tapeworms, and hookworms that enter the digestive tract through food are removed with de-worming medicines. The animals undergo routine stool tests as well.

Faecal samples of animals and birds are collected when their enclosures are cleaned. The samples are tested in the laboratory and if parasites are identified medicines are fed to the animals and tested for efficacy. The drug that kills the parasites the fastest is recommended for de-worming.

With this kind of a healthcare protocol Nandankanan authorities have been able to reduce animal casualties and avoid the kind of tragedy that it had witnessed in 2000. This is not to suggest that the zoo has not faced challenges thereafter but each time it has managed to land on its feet. With a little more support from the government it can emerge as a role model for other zoos in the country.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)