CAG audit reveals glaring gaps in animal health care in Bengaluru and other state zoos

Zebra at Bannerghatta National Park. Photo courtesy: Amol Gaitonde, Wikimedia Commons

Almost all of us have fond memories of visiting a zoo and the first time we saw a zebra or giraffe. The fun and knowledge children get from a visit to the zoo cannot be overstated. It is therefore essential to manage zoos in a way that balances the interests of the animals with the comfort and convenience of the visitor. Some of the main challenges faced by zoos around the world are lack of space, social stress, managing visitors and maintaining the health of their animals. Apart from food poisoning, zoo animals also suffer from animal-human conflict and lack of veterinary care for diseases such as hepatitis, tick fever, etc.

Over the past three years, the Delhi Zoo alone has lost around 450 animals, including tigers and lions due to health reasons. In Bannerghatta National Park in Bengaluru, 263 animals died between April 2020 and March 2021.

Karnataka has a total of 13 zoos, nine of which are under the jurisdiction of the Zoo Authority of Karnataka (ZAK). The Accountant General’s Office (ER&SA) conducted a comprehensive audit of zoo operations from April 2014 to March 2019 to dig deeper into these aspects.

One way to be aware of issues of irregularity and poor performance in local government organs and departments is to follow audit reports from agencies such as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) .

This article is the ninth in the series: Understanding Public Project Audits, written by experts from India’s Accounts and Audit Service.

Read more: Bannerghata Zoo has its work cut out for it

The objectives of the audit were to test:

  • If the nine zoos under ZAK operated in accordance with the provisions of the law
  • If the rules, guidelines and circulars issued to achieve their objective of ex situ conservation, animal welfare, research, education and visitor management have been followed.

The audit reviewed records from the office of the Additional Chief Conservator of Forests (APCCF) and Member Secretary of the Karnataka Zoo Authority, as well as the offices of the executive directors of the nine zoos.

Read more: Why a declining Bannerghatta forest should worry Bengalureans

Some Important Notes

  • Every zoo in the country must obtain recognition annually from the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (Act). The purpose of this exercise is to verify standards for animal care and visitor facilities. Recognition is granted for a period of one year. As of March 2020, recognition had expired for eight of the nine zoos run by ZAK. In two cases, namely Chitradurga and Kalaburgi Zoos, recognition was suspended due to failure to provide full-time responsible officers, failure to withdraw domestic animals and lack of shelter for rescued animals, etc. Despite this, zoos were open to the public.
  • The RZR rules (Recognition of Zoo Rules, 2009) stipulate that zoos must prepare a master plan for long-term development on a scientific basis and obtain its approval by the CZA within one year from from the date of entry into force of these rules. The master plan should have been preceded by a master plan indicating the location of green belts, lawns, gardens, animal display areas, visitor facilities, supporting infrastructure buildings for administrative and maintenance units, etc. Zoo master plans should have been approved in November 2010. Out of nine zoos, three namely, Mysuru Zoo, Bengaluru Bannerghatta Park (BBP) and Kamalapur Zoo had approved master plans but with a significant delay of three and four years, respectively. The rest did not have approved master plans as of March 2020.
  • Animals are at the heart of any zoo and so having proper veterinary care facilities is paramount. However, only Rs 5.16 crore was released out of the planned Rs 11.40 crore. As per the approved master plans, the zoos planned to spend Rs 92.54 crore on development activities such as construction of enclosures, parks, construction of parks and establishment of visitor amenities etc. However, the amount released and spent was only Rs 61.22 crore.
  • All zoos, except mini-zoos, are supposed to have a well-equipped veterinary hospital, including an operating room and an observation room. Mini-zoos should at least have a treatment room. In addition, all zoos should also have food stores, basic monitoring equipment (stethoscope, digital thermometer, etc.), post-mortem set, emergency first aid kit for animals, a medicine/anesthesia kit, a cold store to store emergency medicines, etc. Such infrastructure was not in place in seven of the nine zoos. In Gadag, the hospital was only operational in January 2020, although its construction was completed in March 2019. The mini-zoos of Kalaburgi, Davanagere and Chitradurga did not have treatment rooms.
  • All staff involved in the maintenance and care of zoo animals must be screened for zoonotic diseases once a year and those who test positive for any communicable disease must receive appropriate treatment until they are cured. However, health screening of zookeepers for zoonotic diseases was not carried out in any of the zoos except Mysuru Zoo, where screening was carried out only once during the period. of five years covered by the audit.
  • All zoos held animals (spotted deer, blackbuck, sambar and leopards) above permitted levels because adequate population control measures were not in place.
  • The animals in the enclosure exceeded the authorized standards. In six zoos, against 20 herbivores in each enclosure for a total of 120 herbivores (spotted deer/roe deer), the actual number was 354 spotted deer and 201 fallow deer, a surplus of 234 spotted deer and 101 fallow deer. Overcrowding of animals in an enclosure not only violates CZA standards, but also increases food expenses, and as a result, zoo maintenance costs also increase. Therefore, overcrowding/surplus animals in enclosures and zoos should be avoided.
  • Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Center is run by Wildlife SOS, a non-governmental organization (NGO). During the audit, nine out of 86 sloth bears died from tuberculosis (TB). To ensure that contagious diseases are not spread from pet keepers to animals, they should also be examined to ensure that they have not been infected with any disease. However, Audit observed no evidence of ongoing testing at the rescue center.
  • The audit noted an excess/shortage of purchases of different food items in zoos with reference to diet tables. For example, Gadag Zoo had supplied about half of the beef and chicken needs. In Kamalapur, Shivamogga and BBP, the purchase of chicken exceeded the requirement by 250% to 274%. In Kamalapur, Belagavi and Davanagere zoos, the purchase of six vegetarian items was below requirements. Purchasing feed and forage less than the planned diet table has indicated that the necessary nutrients are not being supplied to the animals. While sub-supply is likely to have had a negative impact on animal health, the issue of over-supply needs to be looked at from the perspective of ownership, wastage, etc.
  • The audit noticed different education programs in only three zoos, Mysuru, BBP and Shivamogga. Programs such as summer/winter camps, youth clubs, zoo awareness and outreach activities, conservation talks, veterinary training for forestry staff, workshops, etc. have been organised. In other zoos there were no education officers/resource persons and therefore no activities were carried out.
  • Mysuru Zoo has earmarked an expenditure of Rs 26.03 lakh for research activities such as publication of articles in zoo journals, etc. design, purchase of souvenirs for events, etc. Diversion of funds for activities other than research was irregular.
  • Framework and recruitment rules (C&R rules) for various positions were only approved by the government in January 2020. In the absence of C&R rules, the labor needs of zoos have been met by deployment of outsourced staff. The staff deployed exceeded the sanctioned posts in zoos, i.e. 762 staff posted against a sanctioned headcount of 388 posts. The issue should be investigated for corrective action.
A leopard at Bannerghatta Zoo
A leopard in the zoo. Photo courtesy: Deepa Mohan

The state government acknowledged the findings and accepted the recommendations. The report was tabled in the state legislature on December 9, 2020.

The full report can be accessed here.

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Nivedita is a civil servant in the Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IAAS) – Lot from 1993. Over the past 3 decades, she has served the Government of India in several capacities at different levels. She is a recipient of the CAG Auditing Excellence and Innovation Award for Performance Audit Report on Stormwater Management in Bengaluru. As a director at the Ministry of Urban Development, Nivedita was involved in policy initiatives such as the National Urban Sanitation Policy, the Benchmarks Service for the Water and Sanitation Sector (AEA) and the capacity building program for urban local authorities. During her stint at the Unique Identification Authority of India, she was involved in the registration of all Tamil Nadu residents (7.2 crores) in partnership with the Registrar General of India. In her spare time, you’ll find her with a Kindle and a coffee mug. Nivedita is currently Executive Director at National e-Governance Services Limited, Bengaluru

Monali Phadtare is a Civil Servant with Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IAAS) – Batch of 2017. She is currently working as Assistant Accountant General in the Office of Principal Accountant General (Audit I), Karnataka. She is responsible for auditing 24 departments of Karnataka State including Finance, GST, Excise, Stamp Duty and Registration, Primary, Secondary, Higher and Technical Education, Development of skills, the department of labor and employment. She helps students as a mentor for the NGO Katalyst. She did B.Tech in Computer Science and MA in Public Administration. Previously, she worked as Assistant Manager at BPCL and Student Partner at Microsoft.

Boyd S. Abbott