Monday, March 30, 2015

Forest dept to probe harassment of lioness.

RAJKOT: The forest department has initiated an inquiry into an incident of an animal keeper of Sakkarbaug Zoo in Junagadh freely playing and teasing lionesses in captivity.

The incident has been captured on a camera and the 1.22 minute video has gone viral on instant messaging applications like WhatsApp. Several wildlife officials as well as those working for lion conservation have also seen the video and expressed dismay at the animal keeper's behaviour.

The animal keeper, a young boy, who is yet to be identified, is seen playing with two lionesses and occasionally harassing the wild cats just for fun.

It is clearly evident in the video that the lioness is not very amused with his advances and tries to shy away from him. At one point, he is even seen slapping the lioness.

Officials, who saw the video, say that the keeper is deliberately teasing the lioness and is trying to show off by asking someone to videograph.

"Generally, animal keepers are well acquainted with the captive lions and hand-rear them. Usually, they are not afraid of lions as they rear them since their birth. But such behaviour just for fun is totally unacceptable," said a senior forest official.

Ironically, lions in captivity are being harassed in a zoo managed by forest department itself.

Sakkarbaug zoo is the only one managed by state forest department while the remaining are being managed by respective civic bodies. Sakkarbaug zoo is known for its conservation programmes. Currently, the zoo is running conservation and breeding programmes for the Asiatic lion, vultures, Indian wolf and Indian wild ass among others.

Officials said that the keeper can be booked under Wildlife Protection Act for showing cruelty to animals under the captivity.

This is not the first time that lions in captivity are being handled in such a way. Earlier, a group of visitors were also captured on camera playing with lion cubs in Rani Gala after taking them out from their enclosures.

When contacted, Sakkarbaug Zoo director S J Pandit, told TOI that they have taken an extremely serious view of the animal keeper's behaviour as seen in the video clip."The act by the person seen in the video is totally uncalled for. We are taking it very seriously and launched a probe," Pandit said.

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