New Delhi: India has more officially derecognized zoos than ones that are approved by the Central Zoo Authority (CZA).
Some 190 zoological parks of various sizes and hues are recognized by the authority, but a surprisingly high 302 have been demoted to the derecognized status.
CZA, a statutory body under the ministry of environment and forests, regulates and supervises the establishment and management of zoos.
“I don’t think there would be a single zoo in the country which would be following the CZA guidelines completely,” says Jaya Simha, campaign manager, People for Ethical treatment of Animals, or Peta, the world’s largest animal rights activist organization.
Under Indian law, derecognized zoos don’t necessarily have to close operations.
Peta says it sought documents under the Right To Information Act for 60 zoos and investigated 30 zoos in India. Last week, Peta filed an application in the Supreme Court on the basis of these investigations. The application, filed under a 2006 writ petition, has asked the court to intervene in the matter of derecognized zoos and pass orders to shut all such zoos and make sure that CZA can take possession of all animals housed in such zoos.
The petition also seeks a ban on establishments such as small animal parks, hotels and institutes from housing or exhibiting endangered species, except those classified as zoos or treatment/rehabitation centres for conservation research.
“As of now, there are no legal provisions which specifies what should be done with animals in derecognized zoos,” said Raj Panjwani, counsel for Peta. “We have asked for these to be made clear. Firstly, visitors should be prohibited, animals should be segregated on the basis of gender so that they don’t proliferate, and thirdly, those which can be rehabilitated, should be.”
However, such steps are hardly followed. For instance, “the Meghalaya State Zoological Park, which has been derecognized, still continues to fu-nction as before,” notes Simha. Park officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
In the case of derecognition, the owner has to get ownership certificates for the animals failing which, according to the Wildlife Protection Act, the owner has to hand over the animals to the state department. “But what happens to the animals after derecognition, no one knows,” said Panjwani.
CZA may demote non-functioning zoos, but it does not provide funds or monitor actions by the zoos in the case of derecognition. “When we derecognize zoos, we send an advisory to the managing authority, but we cannot ask the party to rehabilitate the animals,” said B.M. Sharma, member-secretary of CZA. “After a zoo is demoted, animals can be moved only with the permission of the chief wildlife warden of the state.”
Though the reason for a der-ecognition can be one of ma-ny, Sharma said it is mostly for lack of adequate space. “In addition, we also look at the willingness of the authority to create space and resources. If it lacks the will, then we derecognize,” he said.
Peta’s Simha says “several zoos in India function merely on a conditional permit. Few of the oldest zoos are yet to obtain a permanent licence.”
For instance, the Byculla Zoo in Mumbai, also known as the Veermata Jijabai Udyan, after decades of operation, still doesn’t have permanent recognition. “We submitted our master plan to CZA two mo-nths back,” said M.S. Karole, superintendent of the zoo.