The Last of the Zebra

Toby Ninan retired from Delhi Zoo about two years back. With his varied experiences with the wild animals in the zoo, he is the right person to direct your queries to. Hear what Ninan has to say about his life and chosen career!

The Zebra and the ostrich, used to occupy the same enclosure, which was really ideal for this combination of animal display.

It consisted of nearly 2 acres which was sparsely wooded at the viewing moated end and hedged in behind with a six feet high link mesh fence. The areas in the rear have somewhat thicker cover of trees and bushes, which forms an ideal place when the occupants need some privacy or a cooler spot away from the prying eyes of visitors. However, due to the fact that there are a couple of grassy mounds behind the fencing, it is a fine spot for researchers to conduct their observations in peace and also for the ever present kootchie-coo couples who would want nothing more than to be left alone.

Last month, I told you about our male zebra Raju, who not only saved me but many of our keepers from the attack of the ostrich. Well, he was a fine specimen whom everyone admired. He was also a good breeder- Raju and his mate multiplied to five heads pretty soon, enabling the zoo to exchange the offspring with other zoos for exotics like the 'red lechwe'.

We expected that the zebra would continue to breed well and again we would have plenty to spare. But that was not to be and tragedy struck.

Raju was not very friendly to human beings, (though he helped keepers in distress!) but would condescendingly allow his keeper to stroke his mane at times. He was very devoted to his mate and the two formed a perfect made-for-each-other couple.

One morning we found the female lying dead. Poor Raju was standing close by, absolutely inconsolable. Sudden deaths, especially in bigger animals are really very rare and the carcass has to go through an exhaustive post-mortem. The reason for this death was not very difficult to decipher. There was a complete block of the intestines by a plastic bag! It seems some warped person gave the animal some nice picnic-packed lunch in a plastic bag, which in turn blocked the intestine and brought about its death.

Raju was devastated and refused to eat or drink anything. However, after prolonged coaxing he did eat something from the hands of his keeper. We thought he would come out of his dejection in a day or two but this was not to be and early next day-close to where his mate died, he was also found dead.

An extensive post mortem was done including chemical analysis of the gut and intestinal contents, blood analysis etc. but nothing unusual was found.

My good friend Raju had died heartbroken and had left us all absolutely distraught. Our zebra population was wiped out by nothing more than the action of a twisted individual with a plastic bag!

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