A spate of deaths of animals in the Delhi Zoo in recent years has shown the zoo in poor light. Dimming its reputation further, the zoo has been steadily losing its old-time charm, something even the zoo authorities don’t deny.
The recent death of the zoo’s last ostrich under mysterious circumstances has led to much speculation about the continuous animal deaths in the zoo. Delhi Zoo’s curator R.A. Khan told The Sunday Guardian that the post-mortem report of the healthy adult ostrich couldn’t throw any light on the exact reason for its death, much like her mate’s death last year. A pair of ostriches was brought to the Delhi Zoo in 2014 from Tamil Nadu. The zoo authorities will now start the process to acquire a new pair of ostriches tentatively from the Gwalior Zoo.
Khan said, “Even the CCTV footage of the ostrich’s enclosure doesn’t show any intruder who might have caused the ostrich’s death.” Nikunj Sharma, Government Affairs Liaison, PETA India, said, “Animal deaths have been a major problem at the Delhi Zoo. The causes reported include rabies and sewage water and it is said that an inspection was carried out and several faults, including low quality of food supplied to animals, were found. Animals at this zoo suffer the frustrations typical of captivity such as not being able to fulfill most natural behaviour such as flying, roaming or swimming vast distances, partner selection, socialisation and more. Since February this year, 16 spotted deer have died in the Delhi Zoo, and an official has been quoted in a news report confessing that “the outbreak surfaced on 14 February after drain water swamped the deer enclosure”. In 2015, the last giraffe in the zoo had died after kidney failure.
Khan, who has been working with the Delhi Zoo for the past 29 years, said, “It is obviously sad that animals continue to die even though the zoo provides everything the animals need. The suspicion that poor facilities at the zoo are the reason for animal deaths is baseless because we have all the manpower and required facilities for their maintenance. Weather conditions, infection, age factor, animal fights etc. can be possible reasons why animals die. The ostrich which died last week was a healthy adult and there was nothing wrong with her till the day before. In the morning, she was found dead sitting in a corner. Even the scientists who tested her samples couldn’t ascertain the exact reason for her death.” Khan added, “We also breed animals here with due care. If anything, the life of animals in the Delhi Zoo is probably longer than of animals in other zoos.”
Khan said, “Delhi Zoo was established in this area because of its proximity to the Yamuna so that animals can have a continuous supply of water. However, since the 1990s, we stopped using Yamuna water as it got more polluted. However, the water with a lot of algae and other impurities is good for birds, but it doesn’t add to the scenic beauty which is important from the tourists’ perspective. Now the zoo has limited access to water, which we have to use judiciously for various purposes. The other challenge is preventing animals from infections as there are lots of snakes, rats, house cats and insects etc. who move between animal enclosures undetected. It is not possible to stop their movement; so there are good chances that they become carriers of various infections. Also, there is an underground sewage line that runs through the zoo. Earlier in February, there was a backlog in the sewer line that led to the flooding of some animal enclosures. The issue was duly resolved, but the sewer line cannot be ruled out as a possible infection threat.”
Nikunj Sharma said, “A study by Oxford University scientists found that 40% of elephants in the zoos they studied performed such behaviour as a result of severe stress from confinement. Such behaviour is seen in human mental patients cruelly confined to their cells, but are not seen in animals living with their families in the wild.  PETA’s investigations of zoos across India reveal horrific conditions, including deficiencies in food, drinking water, housing, veterinary care and environmental enrichment. Breeding must be banned at zoos and so should the bringing in of new animals. Money must be transitioned into spending on protecting the animals’ homes in the wild. Zoos teach children that it is OK to be cruel. This is a terrible lesson.”