I am strongly for the recognition and appreciation of the work of zoo keepers and understand the difficulties of the work. I hope and wish that zoo keeping will eventually get international recognition as a profession. One thing I cannot abide though is striking by zoo staff. There are other ways to address problems. At no point EVER should the welfare of zoo animals be compromised. - Peter
The tiger's growl had turned into a pitiable whimper. After more than two days without food, the most feared of beasts was begging for scraps. A little distance away, a lioness hovered near the cage bars, looking pleadingly at visitors. The big cats' whining was drowned out by the roar of the Intuc-led union that has held the zoo to ransom for two months.
The zoo-keepers who were supposed to feed the animals on Friday were off attending a protest rally by the union. Led by an outsider, Intuc leader Rakesh Singh, the zoo employees marched around the campus with flags and shouted slogans in the silence zone. Around the same time, in the elephant enclosure, an elephant reached over the wall and curved its trunk to beg for food.
The 32 carnivores in the zoo suffered the worst. The last time they were fed was at 11am on Wednesday. Thursday is a normal fasting day for them but on Friday, they must get their food by 2pm, or 2.30 at the most, say officials. This Friday, however, the meat reached the lion and tiger cages at 4.40pm - they had gone hungry for almost 54 hours.
The TOI team, which was in the zoo all afternoon, was witness to the distress of the tigers and lions. They were unusually restless and made heart-wrenching sounds, which a keeper said, was a cry for feed.
Just then, most of zoo staff were busy hurling abuses at animal-lovers who had gone to meet the zoo director to speak for the animals.
The zoo staff, who staged an hour-long agitation in front of the director's office, claimed there was no delay and that the animals are fed at 4.30pm on Fridays. But a senior zoo official rubbished this. "They are bending rules at their convenience. The shift starts at 2pm. The feeding must start at 2.30pm," he said.
Besides, there is hardly any monitoring of the amount of food given to animals. Not a single officer was in the zoo to supervise the feeding of herbivores on Thursday. The food-chart has been prepared by an assistant director of the zoo which has no signature of the zoo veterinarian. The quantity of meat for carnivores was reduced from 450 kg per day to 315 kg, say sources.
"We were very dissatisfied with quantity of meat served to the lions. We are not experts, but we feel it was far too little," said Ishita Mukherjee of Howrah Animal Welfare Organization, who had led a group of animal lovers to the zoo on Friday.
She and some other women faced the 'anger and ferocity' of the Intuc people. "We were verbally abused. If media were not there we would have been assaulted. I have never experienced such dishonor in my life," said Mukherjee. "Rakesh Singh kept hurling abuses at us even in the director's room. The director refused to accept our memorandum. There is no doubt that people like Rakesh Singh have held the zoo to ransom," said Mukherjee.
Intuc president and public health engineering minister Subrata
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