Aizawl zoo grapples to keep exotic animals alive | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Aizawl zoo grapples to keep exotic animals alive

By, , Guwahati/kolkata
Apr 21, 2023 11:44 PM IST

Aizawl Zoo in India has a second list of rescued exotic animals and birds smuggled into India from Myanmar, but the zoo is running out of space and some of these animals are dying. Between July 2019 and September 2022, the zoo received 910 exotic animals, of which only 274 survived till the first week of December 2022. The zoo has all one visiting doctor, one veterinary field assistant, one range officer in charge of general administration, and two forest guards. The zoo has sent a proposal to the Union government for separate enclosures and a new rescue and rehab centre.

It is not unusual for zoos in India to keep a list of animals and birds in their possession, updated monthly, logging fresh additions, births and deaths, but the Aizawl Zoo has two such lists, the second for what officials call the “second zoo”.

Mizoram has emerged as a hot spot for animal and bird smuggling. (HT Photo)
Mizoram has emerged as a hot spot for animal and bird smuggling. (HT Photo)

This list has an inventory of rescued exotic animals and birds, smuggled into India through a porous border with Myanmar, that have no other place to go. There is, however, a problem; the zoo is running out of space, and some of these animals are dying.

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Over the past few years, Mizoram emerged as the hot spot for the entry of illegal animals and birds, with seizures by authorities in the North-East state common, even though several consignments slip past. Mizoram shares a 510km long border with Myanmar. In May 2022, for instance, in the single biggest seizure of the kind in the state, the Mizoram Police found 468 animals including 442 lizards, 11 snakes, four sloths, four pottos, four tortoises, two beavers, and one wildcat, arresting five people at Good in Mizoram. The animals seized at Khankawn are native to Africa, South America, and Europe.

“There has been a surge in smuggled of these exotic birds and animals from across the world to India via Myanmar. This has happened because of the demand in India where these animals and birds are kept as pets or used for captive breeding,” said Jawaharlal Boro, assistant director at Guwahati office of Union environment, forest and climate change ministry’s Wildlife Crime Control Bureau.

While the formal inventory for March 2023 shows 29 animal and bird species ranging from barking deer to slow loris, the exotic animal list in the second zoo boasts 50 species from the Argentine white tegu to iguanas to capybaras. For the month ending March 2023, the “normal” list had 196 animals, and the second list , 220.

But this second list could, and perhaps should, have been much longer.

Data available with the Mizoram forest department that HT has seen shows that between July 2019 and September 2022, the Aizawl Zoo received 910 exotic animals, of which only 274 survived till the first week of December 2022. “Many more have succumbed after that,” a senior official of the Mizoram forest department said.

Senior Aizawl zoo officials said that while the seizures by themselves were not unwelcome, preventing smuggling and helping to identify the gangs that operate in the business, the 27-hectare zoo is short of manpower, infrastructure, and expertise to care for these animals. “There are no separate enclosures in the zoo earmarked for those seized animals and birds. They are kept in any available facility. The problem with these exotic animals is mainly arrangement of enclosures for them since there are no existing allotments for them,” said Lalnunzira, officer-in-charge of Aizawl Zoo.

The zoo has all one visiting doctor, one veterinary field assistant, one range officer in charge of general administration, and two forest guards. “There are 15 other provisional employees without any expertise apart from experience gained on the job,” Lalnunzira said.

Officials said that they have been besieged by the sheer number of exotic animals and had to come up with emergency enclosures for albino wallabies, crocodiles, golden lion-headed tamarins, and exotic birds. “We had to keep some in existing enclosures, and rearrange animals already there,” said an Aizawl zoo official.

“Some animals such the capybara, the largest rodent in the world, requires a specific ecosystem. They are semi-aquatic animals found in South America. How can you maintain them in small enclosures with concrete water tanks that we have available here,” asked the official quoted above.

Animals that have died include meerkats, a three-toed sloth, capybaras, red-faced spider monkeys, indri lemurs, and several species of birds. “As an example, the zoo received 390 iguana hatchlings on May 27, 2022. By December 2022, 370 had died. It isn’t just a lack of space, but other factors like stress and climatic conditions,” said the official.

Most recently, in March 2023, the zoo recorded 10 deaths of seized animals and birds including seven crocodile hatchlings, two hornbills, and one leopard tortoise. “We can’t keep them in a ‘malkhana’ (property room in a police station where stolen property is kept) and these animals need to be taken care of. After we seize them, they are produced in courts and under their orders sent to the Aizawl Zoo,” said Lalrinpuia Varte, superintendent of police, Champhai.

Wildlife activists said that there is an obvious problem of volume when it comes to the Aizawl zoo. “The main issues are lack of proper infrastructure to keep these animals and adequate manpower,” said Lalawmawia Sailo from Conservation Mizoram, an NGO.

Officials of the Aizawl zoo said that as far as they are concerned, the animals and birds are stationed with them in a “temporary arrangement”, until a final disposal of court cases. “There is no scope for any alternate arrangement or to keep them elsewhere unless the court issue separate orders to such effect,” said another Aizawl zoo official.

Zoo officials have sent a proposal to the Union government for separate enclosures for capybaras, cassowarys, albino raccoons and yaki monkeys. They have also proposed a new rescue and rehab centre inside the existing perimeter of the Aizawl zoo and a satellite rescue centre in Champhai, close to where most seizures are made. “Both the proposals have been incorporated in the new master Plan of Aizawl Zoo and submitted to Central Zoo Authority,” said Lalnunzira.

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