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'Animals are comfortable in an environment which resembles that of the wild'

Thursday, September 27, 2018
Photographs by Azad Shrivastav

According to a recent definition, a zoo is a place for conservation of local species, where endangered species should be bred and then rehabilitated into the wild, says Dr. Shiwani Tandel, well-known exotic bird expert, as she talks to Prachi Sonawane about various issues concerning the Byculla zoo, like the death of penguins and suggestions for a better life for the city’s captive bird life

“Planting indigenous trees on plots of land to encourage growth of a new forest ecosystem is not enough if there are no animals to populate it,” Dr Shiwani Tandel tells us, as we start interviewing her at her clinic Phoenix Veterinary Specialty in Prabhadevi.

Talking on the nature of the wild, she says, “Captive-bred species when reintroduced into the wild need to be in a “controlled wild ecosystem”, for sometime till they adapt and then with minimal human disruption, they will thrive.

Meanwhile, speaking on the microspecies for example, animals and insects which are not flagship species like frogs, bats and insects, she says they are equally important in maintaining the balance of an ecosystem.

Giving more information on microspecies, she said the Western Ghats are an ideal ecosystem for rare frogs like the 'purple frog' which are native to the western ghats and rightly named 'Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis'. There is a infection caused by the Chytrid fungus affecting all the amphibians in the Western Ghats. Not very many people know that there are some researchers working night and day to understand the biology of these amphibians and the disease affecting them.

“Along with working on the Megafauna (big animals) we must concentrate on these novel microfaunal species which play an important role in the ecosystem,” she added.

While asking about the international zoo concept in the city, she said, “If we look at the zoos abroad, their cages and enclosures are designed in such a way that the animals are comfortable in their environment which resembles that of the wild, we must try to replicate that here as well.”

Further, she said, the international zoo concept is important for the millions of people who cannot experience the wonder of seeing exotic animals, however, zoos should play a vital role in educating the general public about animals and sensitise them about the environment and ecosystem, this is what is lacking in our zoos here.

Further, speaking about the Humboldt penguin, which died a week after his birth in the Byculla zoo, Dr Tandel said, “I was called first time to the zoo around a year ago when Dory, the female penguin, died. After the death of Dory all the penguins in the zoo are screened regularly as they were done earlier to avoid such loss.

In the case of penguins, one cannot become a penguin expert unless you have been working with the specific species for more than 10-12 years. I think there should  training on the lifestyle of any exotic species at the institutions where these animals are procured from, they should be fully aware of the history, diet and the disease affecting the particular species in captivity. They should also employ wildlife biologists to understand the psychology and help in managing the species.”

Reverting back on the reason behind the death of the week-old Humboldt penguin she said, “When penguins are content with their surrounding and feel safe, they breed. Which means the weather conditions were suitable, and that there was no problem with the environment they were in. For the eggs to hatch, specific temperature and humidity will have to be maintained. The hatching without any artificial means, proves that the conditions were suitable. We don’t exactly know what happened as we are awaiting post mortem results, it could be inexperienced parents, infection or genetic anomalies that led to its death.”

Summing up the interview she said, Indian zoos are the only places which can help in conserving endangered wildlife here and it’s high time the trend of thinking about the ecosystem is inculcated when we think about our nations wildlife.

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