A fishy death

death is no stranger to the inmates of Jodhpur zoo in Rajasthan. But the demise and hurried cremation of a lion two months ago has created ripples in the city. While wildlife enthusiasts claim there is something fishy about the entire incident, local journalists claim there is a mystery surrounding the event.

On the morning of August 20, 1999, 13-year-old Girdhari, the lion, was found dead in its cage. A postmortem examination was conducted by a board of veterinarians in the presence of wildlife officials Rajiv Jugtawat and Amarkaran Joshi along with a representative of the district administration. The body was later cremated.

But certain incidents raised the suspicion of the local people and journalists. First, it was discovered at the time of cremation that the lion had been stripped of its skin. Adding to the drama was an order from the office of the chief wildlife warden of the state. Issued a day after the lion died and the skin went missing, the it stated those possessing lion, tiger or other animal skins should register them by December 31, 1999. Finally, the mystery heightened when the viscera of the lion was lost by a class IV staffer of the zoo while taking it for tests to Poshu Chikitsalaya, a veterinary hospital in Bikaner.

As public pressure grew, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot asked the minister for environment and forests to do undertake a review of the situation. The minister, on his part, instituted an inquiry under assistant conservator of forests and wildlife warden Kishen Singh Bhati. The class IV staffer Rajesh Kumar was sacked.

When this reporter spoke to the people involved, there was no consistency in the various versions, especially among the government statements. "There is no confusion in the case. The lion died due to pneumonia. The missing viscera was a human error and the staffer, Rajesh, had lodged a fir with the police. Actually, the viscera gave off a strong smell so some co-passengers complained about it. Rajesh went to the toilet and when he came back someone had thrown it away. During the postmortem examination the entire skin was taken off and burnt with the body. As far as the order from Jaipur goes, in 1986 many people did not know about it since there was no publicity. That's why this order was issued,' says Bhati. When asked whether it is possible to date a skin of an animal (as to when it was killed) he said it is possible.

"I am certain that there were malafide intentions on the zoo authorities' part,' says Om Gaur, resident editor, Dainik Bhaskar , Jodhpur. In the last few months four animals have died in the zoo due to negligence of officials and misappropriation of funds, say local reporters.

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