If earthquake jolts Kathmandu, worst may happen at zoo


Imagine a 6.5 magnitude earthquake rattled Kathmandu Valley and the enclosures for zoo animals were destroyed. Carnivores like tiger and leopards from the Central Zoo in Jawalakhel, located at the core of the city, experts fear, could then escape and roam the streets, feasting on panicking humans.

Apart from other creaky infrastructure in the city that cannot stand a strong quake, the Central Zoo is an area sensitive to both humans and the animals.

“Nobody has thought about this scenario. So far our efforts have been focused on analysing and working towards preparing communities on the situation of earthquake-related disaster impacts on residential and public buildings and human casualties,” says Amod Mani Dixit, executive director of the Nepal Society for Earthquake Technology, a non-government organisation working on earthquake risk management for about two decades. Dixit said his organisation will initiate a discussion on this new issue during a meeting next week.

Despite the fact that Kathmandu lies on a fault line, making it highly prone to earthquake-related disasters, no significant measures have been taken to make buildings resilient, carry out simulation exercises among zoo officials and provide adequate technical resources to deal with a mega earthquake. In September 2011, when a 6.9 magnitude earthquake with its epicentre in Sikkim, India, hit the Valley, one of the walls encircling the zoo was destroyed.

According to Central Zoo Director Sarita Gyawali, the zoo administration has started work on the reconstruction and renovation of compound walls, along with the installation of inner walls for carnivore enclosures, particularly the big cats. Currently, the zoo has four tigers and three leopards. Zoo officials are being trained on managing animals during a disaster, she said, but mitigating the risk of the escape of animals such as tigers, rhinos and leopards is a major challenge. “Let’s pray no big disaster strikes anytime soon,” said Gyawali.

Two years ago, during a meeting of the representatives from South Asian zoos held in Kathmandu, authorities discussed emergency response protocols for climate change, emerging diseases and terrorism. Nepali authorities had identified four disaster scenarios for the zoo—earthquake, disease outbreak, fire and animal escape.

In recent times, various zoos and zoological parks across the globe are working on emergency and disaster management plans in view of the safety of captive animals, zoo keepers and the public. In February, Japan held simulation exercises for zoo keepers in its two zoos in Tokyo as part of precaution for the escape of animals and their harming the public. Similarly, Kabul Zoo has built stone walls and a good sewerage system for flood control. In India, a model disaster management plan has been prepared for zoological parks, prioritising the construction of earthquake risk wall systems, drills and staff training for earthquake safety measures.


Posted on: 2013-08-25 08:38