ANIMAL PEOPLE ID

From: Animal People October 1998


Maneka claims cabinet post for animals

NEW DELHI, India––”You will be happy to know that I have finally gotten the animal welfare department, which is the first of its kind anywhere in the world,” People For Animals founder Maneka Gandhi e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE on September 8.

“It is now a part of my ministry,” Maneka said, as welfare minister for the government of India, “and I would like to make it into a full-fledged department.” A senior independent member of the Indian parliament, representing her New Delhi district since 1989, Maneka is among the power brokers in the coalition government of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party. She may actually have more clout now than she did during two appointments as environment minister while a member of the Janata Dal party, from which she was ousted in 1996 for denouncing alleged corruption among fellow ministers.

To create an independent animal welfare department has been Maneka’s first ambition since she entered politics, she told ANIMAL PEOPLE over lunch during the 1997 national conference of the Animal Welfare Board of India.

The Animal Welfare Board has advisory authority, a small budget, some deputized inspectors, and a constitutional mandate to prevent animal suffering, but it cannot actually make and enforce policy. The chief inspection powers pertaining to animals in India, as in the U.S., are split among departments with other mandates––and often, inherent conflicts of interest.

Maneka explained to ANIMAL PEOPLE that she would like to bring all of the animal-related inspection services together in one branch of government which would answer to no other, would vigorously implement the recommendations of the Animal Welfare Board, and would uphold the unique provision in Article 51-A of the Indian constitution that the people of India have a moral obligation to prevent animal suffering.

As ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press, no further information about whatever Maneka has accomplished was available. Daily searches of major Indian newspapers produced no menton of it.

Help In Suffering president Christine Townend, director of two animal sanctuary/hospitals in India and a longtime personal friend of Maneka, was in Concord, California, on September 11 to address a plenary session of the fourth annual No-Kill Conference. Traveling when Maneka contacted ANIMAL PEOPLE, Townend hadn’t heard a word about it.

Nor had conference participants Bonny and Ratilal Shah, who head both the Ahimsa charity of Texas and the animal welfare committee of JAINA, the American Jain religious and cultural organization.

Whatever Maneka is up to, though, the timing for animals couldn’t be better. Noting the success of the Animal Birth Control program pioneered 30 years ago by the Blue Cross of India in Chennai (Madras), and actively encouraging it through most of the years since, the Animal Welfare Board in December 1997 recommended that India should pursue achieving no-kill animal control nationwide by 2005. No-kill policies were already in effect in Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, and several other major cities.

The recommendation was ratified by the government in power then––but that government was toppled by the Bharatiya Janata coalition in March 1998. Animal Welfare Board president Lieutenant General (retired) Ashoke Kumar Chaterjee, a staunch ally of Maneka’s, retired and was replaced by Guman Mal Lodha, a longtime back-bencher in Parliament whom Maneka vigorously denounced from the floor at the 1997 Animal Welfare Board meeting for his role in decertifying a wildlife sanctuary to encourage nearby industrial development.

In Mumbai, Bombay SPCA president Ratan N. Tata retired after four years as president and was replaced Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit, 4th Baronet, a 15-year member of the board––who died suddenly on March 30, at age 64, on a trip to Amsterdam. Townend, badly mauled in April by a street dog, spent the summer recovering in her native Australia.

Dogs vs. cows

With much of the Indian humane leadership temporarily distracted, and the Indian economy stagnant, though resisting the collapse afflicting much of the rest of Asia, populists in Mumbai and elsewhere seized upon still abundant homeless dogs as an easy problem to “solve” by creating patronage jobs––in this case, to kill dogs. (See this month's letters to the editor)

There was a cultural undercurrent to the anti-dog backlash. Many Indians, like other Asians, perceive dogs as unclean––a belief associated with fear of rabies, and also associated, among many Hindus and some Jains, with the carnivorous nature of dogs. Strict Hindus of the educated classes, and all Jains, are supposed to be lacto-vegetarian. Though Mohandas Gandhi made a public point of petting dogs, humane work centering on dogs tends to be regarded by some nationalists and fundamentalists as a presumptuous British imposition on a nation whose Lord Krishna reputedly founded cattle sanctuaries, called gaushalas or pinjrapols, 5,000 years ago.

Dog rescue is urban-oriented; cattle rescue is rural. Cows are holy; dogs are profane. Maneka, a feminist radical as well as a nationalist, is satirized for her love of dogs, while Guman Mal Lodha, a conservative, defended himself against her charge of improperly delisting the sanctuary by proclaiming, “I would give my life for a cow.”

Fundamentalists may have seen the rise of the Bharatiya Janata party as a sign that cow rescue would regain primacy in the perennial pursuit of government funding. But the gaushala faction was almost immediately embarrased when incoming Rajasthan governor Darbara Singh ordered an investigation of the deaths of more than 3,000 cattle at gaushalas in Jaipur and Dausa.

“A state-appointed commission on cow conservation found that a large number of deaths were due to poor health or starvation,” The Times of India reported. “The state gives the gaushalas a subsidy of three rupees a day for each cow, but the funds are not being used properly, it is alleged.”

That’s just what Maneka charged, years earlier. She and allies, all derided as dog-lovers, had complained for years about unscrupulous gaushala managers allegedly allowing cattle to starve, in order to sell their hides for leather. Slaughtering cattle is legally difficult in India, but selling leather goods made from cattle who supposedly died naturally is so ubiquitous that it is almost impossible even to find a nonleather belt for sale.

Bullock carts

Apart from defending and expanding humane dog care and control policies, and policing gaushalas, Maneka’s animal welfare department will have no lack of other work.

But she also still has strong colleagues in humane work, including Blue Cross of India vice president S. Chinny Krishna, who recently denounced Indian film makers in The Hindu for not at least equaling Hollywood in setting good examples of how animals should be treated.

Before the Bharatiya Janata government demonstrated Indian nuclear might with a series of underground test blasts in the Rajasthan desert, near Pakistan, such complaints were typically dismissed with the excuse that India can’t match western standards due to poverty. Now that India claims to be part of the First World elite, crying poor no longer seems to satisfy much of the media.

On September 18 The Times of India covered an address to Bangalore bullock cart drivers by Chamrajpet legislator Premila Nesargi. Organized by Compassion Unlimited Plus Action, the Animal Welfare Board, the city police, and the Bangalore department of animal husbandry, the presentation “aimed to educate the cartmen of the city market and surrounding areas on the laws regarding permissible loads for animal-drawn vehicles,” the article explained.

“Premila told the surprised cartmen how there are special parlors abroad for dogs and shoes for horses. ‘You will not believe, the dogs also have their own tailors who stitch the correct size of clothes for them,’ she said. The lawyer-cum-politician, who is just back from a trip to Britain, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates, advised the cart owners to take good care of their animals, like their counterparts in foreign countries.”

Anyone familiar with any of those nations must have wondered just where she went, to encounter both dog-tailors and bullock-carts. But evidently no one inquired. Premila reportedly went on to ask the Bangalore police to set up scales at various checkpoints to see if carts are overloaded.

Wildlife

Among her other crusades, Maneka has demanded higher standards of Indian wildlife viewing sites for more than 20 years. She has pointed out that while building cages may cost more money than the operators of most zoos are willing or able to spend, India still has abundant animals in the wild, who can be readily observed, are already a major source of tourist revenue, and could generate far more revenue both from visitors and from Indians themselves, if properly protected and appreciated. This includes developing ways of watching the animals without stressing them.

Having seen for herself several of the leading zoos and aquariums in the U.S., Maneka argues that India should build facilities of at least equal quality near each big city, both improving conditions for captive widlife and creating countless jobs in construction, maintenance, and animal care.

These sites should be stocked, she contends, with animals rescued from the many substandard roadside zoos around the country, if the rescued animals are not suitable for return to the wild. Then, the relatively few top-quality zoos should be managed as educational institutions, to teach Indian children the importance of protecting and expanding the many sanctuaries and national parks which in recent years have been poached and plundered as quasi-commons, under a “sustainable use” policy which proclaims lip service to the management paradigm of the World Wildlife Fund.

Unlike WWF, which advocates trophy hunting, most Indian states discourage or forbid sport hunting in any form, but allow just about any other use of wildlife reserves. Thus villagers fearlessly herd cattle through some “tiger sanctuaries” which now contain fewer tigers than tourist jeeps. Where the tigers are may perhaps be identified––if they descend into the grasslands––from the incessant honking of jeeps racing toward them.

Named for Maneka’s late husband, who was killed in a 1981 airplane crash, the Sanjay Gandhi National Wildlife Park near Mumbai proposed to introduce jeep tours beginning on October 1. Ahimsa in September filed suit seeking to halt the plan, arguing that the 40 resident panthers and leopards, 21 lions, and four tigers need fewer people in their habitat, not more.

Sanjay Gandhi park conservator A.R. Bharti claims the purpose of the tours will be public education. Ahimsa counters that they will amount to commercial exploitation, in violation of the 1980 Forest Conservation Act. This could put Maneka right in the middle, since she favors improving public education about wildlife, especially at parks and reserves, but as environment minister ran into political trouble time and again for fighting commercial exploitation of protected habitat.

Ahimsa won a late August verdict from the Bombay High Court that the Sanjay Gandhi National Park wildlife rehabilitation center at Borivili does not constitute adequate provision for sick and injured wildlife as required by the 1960 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Reinforcing an opinion issued on March 16, the court directed Maharashtra state to create at least one more wildlife rehabilitation center and several infirmaries for domesticated animals before November 9.

Maharashtra state attorney R.V. Govilkar had argued that the 2,073 veterinary clinics in the state were adequate to treat the number of animals in need. The ratio of vets to humans in Maharashtra is about 1-to-50,000, a tenth of the U.S. ratio.

Zoo reform

The Central Zoo Authority of India and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, under former environment and forests minister Saifuddin Soz, in October 1997 moved to close 66 roadside zoos and seven larger facilities for not meeting care standards. Soz urged even the National Zoo in Delhi to add more staff scientists, improve veterinary care, and do better longterm planning.

To hold all the animals from the zoos which were to be closed, the CZA proposed to add five regional rescue centers to the best existing zoos, promising that “The entire cost of developing these centers and maintenance costs would be borne by the CZA.”

On December 8, 1997, after the CZA motion was ratified by the Animal Welfare Board, the CZA directed the Children’s Park at Guindy, near Chennai, to manage itself “exclusively for domestic biodiversity,” to conserve rare indigenous breeds of livestock, such as cattle, goats, camels, peacocks, and jungle fowl, and to transfer an estimated 800 representatives of wild species to the Arignar Anna Zoological Park, in the Vandalur forest.

This would reportedly make the 22-acre Children’s Park Zoo, founded in 1959, the first zoo in India to focus on domestic animals. Black buck, elephants, panthers, barking deer, sloth bears, slender lorises, crocodiles, pythons, and erns would all go to the vastly larger Arignar Anna facility.

Objected P. Oppili of The Hindu, “The park is an important revenue earner for the State Department of Forests, and once the animals are shifted to Vandular, it stands to lose its charm and revenue.”

Not surprisingly, the transfer has not actually been scheduled.

The Arignar Anna zoo is already implementing some of Maneka’s other ideas. Many of the animals are former “nuisance wildlife,” including 500 spotted deer who were removed from the adjacent Tambaram Air Force Station in a series of five drives commenced in August 1997, and an Indian bison who was captured in a sugar cane field near Thirukkazhukkundram on March 24, at least 100 miles from the nearest wild bison herd. The deer and bison are to enjoy a new 2,500-acre safari-style habitat among former eucalyptus and cashew plantations.

The Arignar Ann zoo is also cleaning up Otteri Lake, located on the grounds, where naturalists counted 70 migratory bird species during the winter of 1996-1997. The zoo hopes to attract more by removing silt and rubbish, restoring fish, and planting shrubbery appropriate for perching and nesting along the banks. The birds are to be discreetly viewed from walk-in platforms.

Three days after taking in a pair of female sloth bears who were rescued from a traveling show, Arignar Ann zoo director N. Krishna Kumar and assistant conservator of forests P. Krishnan on September 19 jointly introduced a Zoo Club similar to youth docent programs at U.S. zoos. The club grew out of a series of four one-day “zoo classes” held for school children last May.

The initial group of 40 participants, one from each local school, were required to pass an entrance examination, and will attend 20 special classes during the next six months. Another 110 participants are to be enrolled before the end of the year. Each youth is to work at the zoo for two years, with care responsibilities for a particular animal.

Their chief duties, Kumar told The Hindu, will be to educate visitors about the animals, prevent visitors from teasing animals, and prevent littering.

The importance of those chores was emphasized on September 14 by Mohit Dubey of The Times of India, who reported from Lucknow that “as many as 65 animals have lost their lives due to carelessness and vandalism by visitors to the Prince of Wales Zoo this year.” Persons convicted of abusing zoo animals may be fined about $50, but unarmed zoo guards are ineffective in apprehending the guilty parties, Dubey wrote.

“Laws are meaningless,” zoo director G.P. Sharma told Dubey. “until proper efforts are made to make people understand that callousness and adventurism costs the poor speechless animals a lot.”

In Delhi for the World Hindu Council, Swami Vasudevanand Saraswati did his part, more or less, by demanding a ban on plastic bags––to protect cows, however, not zoo animals. Necropsies of street cows, Saraswati claimed, had found their stomachs stuffed with up to 110 pounds of plastic, causing them painful convulsive deaths.

Directors

The directors of some of India’s other major zoos need educating too, recent reports from the Calcutta Zoo suggest. Observing rats nibbling the tail and shrivelled limbs of a 24-year-old terminally ill liger, an artificially bred tiger/lion hybrid, who has lost most of her hair and developed body sores, Purnima Toolsidas of Compassionate Crusaders Trust in June begged the Central Zoo Authority in New Delhi to order euthanasia.

“It will be worthwhile to see how long the liger can survive,” responded Calcutta Zoo director Adhir B. Das.

The Central Zoo Authority of India appointed a committee to study the case. Three months later, the liger is still alive and suffering. Das and news media frequently refer to her as the purported last of a rare species, ignoring that ligers are not actually a species, and apparently unaware that the Wildlife Waystation sanctuary, of Angeles National Forest, California, has 27 ligers. The Shambala Preserve, 20 miles north, has another liger who may be the biggest on record. Ligers are in fact common in U.S. sanctuaries, since private collectors continue to breed them for sale to the gullible, who dump them when they become hard to handle.

Founded in 1875, the Calcutta Zoo is among the oldest continuously operating zoos in the world. The Arignar Anna zoo is among the newest in India––but it also promotes animal novelties. In April, for instance, the Arignar Anna zoo bought a male Bengal tiger with the recessive gene for white stripes. The object is to mate him to a female already at the zoo who also has the recessive gene, to produce zebra-striped cubs––the opposite of what would happen if the animals were bred to maximize genetic diversity. If that were done, there might never be white-striped tigers.

Competition to breed white-striped tigers, in fairness, is not unique to India. To the quiet annoyance of the American Zoo Association, the Philadelphia Zoo, Marine World Africa USA, and the Siegfried & Roy Circus (not in the AZA) have also recently bred and promoted white-striped cubs.

A 5,000-acre lion safari park to be situated east of the Taj Mahal may help introduce the new age of wildlife exhibition that Maneka has in mind. Uttar Pradesh state forest minister R.D. Varma told media last spring that the park is to be be developed in conjunction with a Taj Nature Walk trail. Initially it is to contain eight “surplus” Asiatic lions obtained from zoos in Kanpur and Lucknow. Varna said the state government of Gujarat had agreed to send more lions from the Gir forest, their crowded last major wild habitat, where about 300 lions share 180,000 acres.

The Gujarat government recently authorized the Usha Bresco Company to build a ropeway through the Gir forest, discussed since 1958, to deliver visitors to 19 temples in the Girnar hills. The Jain group Mahajanam, the Viniyog Parivar Trust, and the Bombay Natural History Society have all objected.

“The ropeway will increase the risk of poaching,” charged BNHS director Asad Rehamni.

Poaching rings were reportedly broken in the Beed area during late August and in New Delhi circa mid-September, but confidence that India can stop poaching isn’t likely to develop until and unless the notorious Koose Munuswamy Veerappan can be brought to justice. Boasting of having gotten away with 34 years of illegally killing wildlife and stealing logs, Veerappan, 48, is believed to have murdered at least 100 people to cover his crimes, including 27 law officers.

Authorities in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states hoped in May that Veerappan was cornered and might surrender. But instead, taunting his pursuers with tape recorded messages, Veerappan kidnapped a lawyer and two journalists in late May. The hostages were rescued in June, and seven Veerappan associates were arrested after a series of shoot-outs, but Veerappan himself remained at large.

Cyclones

Summer cyclones and late moonsoons added natural disaster to many nature reserves’ problems. As many as 20,000 flamingos normally nest near Surajbari, in Kutch, especially at the Wild Ass Sanctuary of Little Rann, but only about 150 lesser flamingos and 350 greater flamingos survived a July 9 storm. Birdwatchers told Shyam Parekh of The Times of India that most of the flamingos’ nesting islands were submerged, and that windblown flamingo carcasses were snagged in electrical wires by the thousand.

In mid-September, tigers, wild pigs, monkeys, and hooved animals reportedly fled into Nepal from four flooded sanctuaries in northern Uttar Pradesh.

At least 544 animals including 45 Asian rhinos, 429 hog deer, 20 buffalo, 17 boar, 10 sambar, nine porcupines, eight swamp deer, six elephants, two civets, a fishing cat, and three snakes died during floods that inundated the Kaziranga National Park in Assam. Of the rhinos, 31 drowned while poachers shot nine, taking advantage of the inability of rangers to give pursuit. The park management built more than 100 berms for animals to stand on while the water was high, but 68 of the berms subsequently washed out.

The flooding hit just after Kaziranga field director Bishan Singh Bonai announced that the resident tiger population was up from 29 in 1972 to 80. The initial increase in tiger numbers roughly paralleled a rise in the swamp deer population, from 213 in 1966 to a high of 756 by 1984. But the tigers have continued to increase; the deer have not. Severe floods in 1988, 1990, 1991, and 1992 as well as grassfires had cut the herd back to circa 500. Hemendra De, superintendent of the Sarthana Zoo, in the Varachha area of Ahmedabad, near Surat, struggled in September to keep a pregnant four-horned antelope and about 50 other animals above the Tapi river. An aviary at Chowk Bazar was reportedly also jeopardized.

With 50,000 human lives at risk, and 2,000 already known dead from the monsoon disaster, saving wildlife was a low priority for most public officials.

Going to the rats

Surat was on edge about a different sort of animal problem, as an outbreak of bubonic plague transmitted by rats hit the region after similar flooding in 1994, and hordes of rats, fleeing the rising waters, were again in evidence. Maneka warned Surat officials in 1994 that their practice of killing stray dogs had allowed rats to proliferate unchecked, and recently issued reminders.

Public health authorities in several parts of India earlier this year tried––as they often have before––to banish dogs from charity hospitals. Alleged consequences included a case of a newborn girl being chewed to death by rats at a hospital nursery in Jaipur, and a reported catastrophic failure of federally sponsored birth control programs.

According to S.N.M. Abdi, Calcutta correspondent for the South China Morning Post, health officials in New Delhi “approached the United Nations and a Danish aid agency to fund warehouses” to hold birth control devices because “rats have chewed holes in millions of condoms stored in the open at primary health centers in villages and small towns. Rodents and the weather,” Abdi continued, “have also damaged bulk consignments of the contraceptive pill and intra-uterine devices. The government was alerted by the poor results of family planning measures.”

About 25% of the condoms inspected, Abdi indicated, had been rat-chewed.

––M.C.