Why are tigers kept in zoos? Is it because people like to see pretty wild animals or is it part of a programme to manage wildlife and save it from extinction. The people who could answer this question, the conservationist lobby and the Project Tiger people are surprisingly silent. They have failed to react to the mysterious deaths of 12 tigers in the Nandankanan zoo in Orissa.
The conservation lobby in India, that has been very quick to seize upon every chance it has managed to get to drive home its point of view, both in India and abroad, has distanced itself from the entire incident. When a dte reporter phoned up a senior wildlife official for his views regarding the episode, the official took great pains to explain that this was a matter for the zoo authorities and that Project Tiger, India's biggest conservation programme has nothing to do with animals being raised in captivity.
The entire affair is very shoddy. The controversy revolves around a drug that was administered which certain people say should not have been administered (see p8: Royal deaths). But then Nandankanan is not the only zoo where tigers have died recently. So what is zoo management all about? As far as the breeding programme goes, the tigers of Nandankanan were hopelessly inbred offspring of incest. Earlier wildlifers were very careful to ensure crossbreeding, they were not aware of terms like gene pool or the genetic code but they knew from experience that inbreeding produced unhealthy offspring.
The Nandankanan episode definitely raises two very important questions? It questions the status and scientific validity of our captivity breeding programmes and secondly it raises the issue of whether we should have zoos at all. The government has been kind enough to appoint an enquiry committee to look into the cause of the tiger deaths. This kind of response smacks of bureaucracy. It will merely succeed in sweeping the real issues under the carpet and raising academic questions about procedure relating to the administration of a drug. Which is a real pity.
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