By Aashish Mishra
Kathmandu, Aug. 28: The Central Zoo has found itself in crisis due to the lack of regular income from visitors,
which has now stopped due to COVID-19. According to Dr. Chiranjibi Prasad Pokharel, Project Manager of the Central Zoo from the National Trust for Nature Conservation, COVID-19 and the restrictions imposed to control it have knocked the only zoo of Nepal down so hard that it might not be able to get back up.
The zoo houses and cares for more than 700 animals of more than 100 species.
Additionally, it rescues wild animals from various parts of Kathmandu Valley and treats and nurtures them. “If something happens to the zoo, then the welfare of these animals will be jeopardised,” Pokharel worried.
The coronavirus pandemic has put humans in peril. But it has left animals, especially those existing in a human-dependent setting, equally vulnerable. The Central Zoo is a prime example of this.
“Our focus is always the health and safety of our animals. That is why, throughout the four-month-long lockdown, we had 20 staff members living inside the zoo premises, maintaining sanitation and looking after the creatures,” Pokharel said.
“We also coordinated with the District Administration Office to make passes for our food supply contractor to ensure our resident fauna were not hungry.”
He further added, “Even now, when the administration does not issue passes, our contractor brings food in the morning hours which we then store with utmost care and quality.”
The zoo has not skimped on animal care till now. But that might
not be the case much longer. A major portion of its income was ticket sales – something that has been snapped completely for the past five months. This has brought on an unprecedented economic crisis.
“Our employees’ salaries have been cut by half, we do not have donation sources and our revenue has vanished. We have formally requested the government and the Ministry of Forests and Environment for help but have received no response so far. We need urgent support if the zoo is to survive,” Pokharel appealed.
Organisations and individuals seeking to help stray animals have it equally bad. Pawsitive Lovers Group, an organisation dedicated to caring for stray dogs, has been feeding vagrant canines in Sankhamul, Koteshwor and Gwarko areas since the beginning of the prohibitory order last week. It was also active in such feeding during the lockdown. But, currently, it is strapped for cash.
Group member Bhakta Dongol said, “With no donation and income, we are forced to use what we have or can get with limited finances. We have been feeding the dogs biscuits and sometimes, little meat.”
Beena and Manju Kharbuja are also in a similar financial fix. Unaffiliated with any organisation, the two sisters had been buying grains and vegetables with their salaries to feed birds, cows and oxen around their home in Sallaghari, Bhaktapur since April. But last month, Manju was laid off from her job as a content writer and Beena’s salary is needed for the house.
“So, we have stopped feeding the animals now,” Manju expressed her sadness.
Be it institutions like the zoo, groups like Pawsitive or people like the Kharbuja sisters, corona’s impact on income might force animals into starvation.