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Single and ready to mingle but grounded by Zoo authorities

The New Indian Express, New Delhi, 15th September, 2014 NEW DELHI: It seems finding a suitable mate is harder in the animal world. A skewed sex ratio, a problem in many Indian states, is now a matter of concern for Indian zoos as well. Endangered animals such as lions and tigers are left waiting for partners in many zoos, which causes behavioural issues such as stress among these animals and even reduces their life span. Concerned over the imbalance in sex ratio, the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) has now written to nearly 200 zoos across India asking them not to keep single animals for over six months and make arrangements for procuring viable partners. However, the zoos are not willing to part with or exchange their star attractions. The CZA, under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), found that 11 big zoos in the country either have male or female tigers and any effort to bring a partner for them failed as none of the other zoos are ready to part with their animal as these big cats are star attractions in every zoo. The Bannerghatta Zoo in Karnataka has 18 tigers and 16 tigresses and the Nandankanan Biological Park in Odisha has 3 tigers and 13 tigresses. Similarly, four zoos do not have mating partners for their lions. And attempts to get suitable partners from Sakkarbaug Zoo of Gujarat (that has 20 lions and 39 lionessess) have been unsuccessful due to reluctance in sharing the animals through exchange or loan. The sex ratio in case of pythons, crocodiles, leopards, hippopotamuses and sloth bears is worse with as many as 10 zoos not have mating partners for these creatures. The CZA, which is the apex body for regulating welfare and conservation of zoos in India, feels that the skewed sex ratio of animals affects animal conservation. Pooling of animals is also important for churning of gene pool and avoiding the risk of a particular species getting extinct due to some disease. “We see a lot of behavioural, psychological and physiological changes in single animals. With none to socialize they become disturbed and stressed and it also affects their lifespan. For instance, macaques have social groupings and they groom each other,” said B K Gupta, Evaluation and Monitoring Officer, CZA. A balanced sex ratio also helps maintain a viable/breeding population in zoos across the country, he added. The CZA has also issued guidelines asking zoos to share and transfer animals, but as it does not have any penal powers to force them to do so. According to the guidelines, no animal should be left single for more than six months and a mate must be acquired for it. But there are several zoos that have kept single animals for years. “We find that zoos do not part away with their prized animals like lions and tigers even if they have extra females or males. It is because they think parting with prized animals would cost them their monthly earnings as people come to zoos only to see big animals,” he said. He added that CZA can only issue directive but doesn’t have constitutional powers to take punitive action as zoos come under state governments. The National Zoo Policy says that every zoo shall endeavour to avoid keeping single animals of non-viable sex ratios of any species. They shall cooperate in pooling such animals into genetically, demographically and socially viable groups at zoos identified for the purpose. “All zoos shall cooperate in successful implementation of identified breeding programmes by way of loaning, pooling or exchanging animals for the programme and help creation of socially, genetically and demographically viable groups even at the cost of reducing the number of animals or number of species displayed in individual zoos,” it says.