Government to establish Centre of Zoo Sciences soon - Prakash Javadekar
New Delhi, 03.11.2014

The Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Shri Prakash Javadekar today announced that the Government would set up a “Centre of Zoo Sciences” at New Delhi, while delivering the inaugural address at the 69th Annual Conference of World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). He said that the Centre of Zoo Sciences would aim to turn around the functioning of zoos in the country, infuse scientific and technical culture in the present system. It appears that the recent incident of a man jumping into a white tiger cage and getting killed has made them include “making zoos visitor friendly” as one of the objectives of the proposed Centre of Zoo Sciences.

The proposed institution would act as a Technical Advisor to the Central Zoo Authority and to provide expert help to the States and UTs in ex-situ conservation breeding of endangered species, and organize training courses for in-service zoo personnel and stakeholders in India as well as for zoo personnel of South Asian countries.

The Minister Shri Javadekar while delivering his inaugural address said the theme of the Conference “Bio-diversity is Us” was quite appropriate for India, a land of diverse habitat eco-system, culture, religion, tradition, language and food. This was also manifested in the country’s cultural tradition that preserved about 13,270 secret groves across the country by the people. India with only 2.4% of the World’s land area was home to 7-8% of the World’s bio-diversity spanning across 91,000 species of animals and 45,000 species of plants. It also had four of the 34 globally identified biodiversity hotspots, supports about 50% of the world’s tiger population and 60% of Asian elephant and rhino population including the only surviving population of the Asiatic lion.

Shri Javadekar also highlighted the initiatives undertaken by the Ministry for the conservation of endangered species. He mentioned the initiative for setting up of Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species at Hyderabad, National Stud Book Cell at Wildlife Institute of India, and major zoos of the country becoming member of the International Species Information System to utilize the web based Zoological Information Management System with the help of CZA had been undertaken to compliment the ongoing conservation breeding programme for various endangered species. The Government had also initiated a programme for disaster management in the zoos in order to deal with recent incidents involving visitors inadvertently falling into the animal enclosures. The Minister also mentioned that the action plan for the conservation of vultures had been a great success with support being offered for conservation breeding centre for 23 species which included various endangered species.

Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Shri Ashok Lavasa, who was also present on the occasion, said that preserving nature was our ethical responsibility and the prime symbol of development would be to successfully conserve nature and ecosystems. He further stated that the Ministry was in the process of bringing about comprehensive changes in the Wildlife Act to incorporate international conventions and practices on environment protection.

It is good that the Ministry has recognized that the zoos are functioning badly and are not in sync with their objectives. Unfortunately mere mention of improving or creating a separate body to improve the scientific and technical culture in zoos would not result in significant change. If proper budgets are allocated and if there is freedom to conduct research on topics of interest to the researchers then it would help in creating an environment of technical and scientific excellence.

It would have been good if the MoEF would have also focused on in-situ conservation. There is hardly any research and effort to release animals in the wild. No amount of ex-situ conservation breeding is going to help if we don’t focus on releasing back healthy specimens back in the wild to augment existing populations as well as gene pool.

It is also a bit premature to celebrate the success of vulture conservation action plan, as vultures still remain endangered and hardly seen in most of our landscapes. Diclofenac drug is still available in number of places and is also available for humans. People are using that to treat their cattle and hence the danger persists. The Government has to take stern steps to take the killer drug out of the system. The ecological role played by vultures is enormous to be ignored. We hope vultures will again be seen in large numbers in and around our forests and villages. Only then we can claim success. Else, breeding of a few vultures in a centre will take our focus off the issue.