Officials at a zoo in northern India have been suspended after a pack of wild dogs entered the premises and killed as many as 31 blackbucks, an antelope species that is on the endangered list, over the weekend.
The feral canines broke through the barrier of the Kanpur Zoo in the state of Uttar Pradesh on Saturday evening and were found eating the carcasses the following morning. Guards killed all the dogs, the Indian Express reported.
Only seven blackbucks remain in the zoo, FirstPost reported.
The dogs somehow passed through barbed-wire fence surrounding the enclosure.
"The wall had fallen down and was being repaired. But it appears it hadn't been fixed properly," chief wildlife officer Rupak De told the BBC.
"When they [the blackbucks] were attacked, they tried to escape but their enclosure was shut. Some were then killed by the dogs, many were injured, while others died of heart attacks brought on by shock.”
Following the incident, UP’s chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who also serves as the minister for forests, suspended the director of the Kanpur zoo, K. Praveen Rao, a forester, two forest guards, a keeper and a watchmen for dereliction of duty.
Yadav also ordered the Kanpur district magistrate and the city commissioner of Kanpur Municipal Corporation to commence a campaign against stray dogs in the city. State authorities have also started an investigation into the killings of the antelopes.
The blackbuck, which is native to the Indian subcontinent, is protected in India by the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the animal a “near-threatened” species in 2003.
While the weekend misadventure appears to be a bizarre, one-off incident, the blackbuck faces other threats to its very existence.
The Times of India noted that blackbucks typically live in open plains in herds of 15 to 20 animals and can run very fast – up to speeds of 80 miles per hours. Hunters once prized the animals’ flesh and skin, but India imposed laws banning such practices, although poachers still skirt such restrictions laws.
The blackbucks’ range has been encroached upon by humans seeking more land to farm and build homes, while cattle need excess room to graze. Blackbucks are also susceptible to bovine diseases.
Numbers of blackbucks have dwindled to the point where they are now further threatened by inbreeding.
Blackbucks once roamed all across North India – but they were one of the most hunted animals on the subcontinent. India’s various princely families were quite fond hunting the creature.
Several years ago, the plight of the disappearing blackbuck gained huge media attention when India’s biggest movie star, Salman Khan, was sentenced to five years in jail for killing two blackbucks as well as some chinkaras, a type of Indian gazelle, during a hunting expedition. (Khan’s case is still pending). Famous cricketer Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi also got in trouble for killing a blackbuck.
Kartick V. Bhat, an Indian nature photographer, wrote about a recent visit he made to the Jayamangali Blackbuck Conservation Reserve in Karnataka in southern India.
“There are several threats to the reserve,” he wrote in Conservation India.
“I saw this unfortunate sight of a blackbuck with a wire entangled around its neck. It may have been a trap set to catch blackbuck or drive them away from farms. I have never seen this before -- this is a new threat for the animals.”
He also noted that the private land surrounding the reserve has been leased at discount prices to agencies that are drill deep wells to exploit groundwater in order to grow crops.
“Endangered blackbuck are in constant conflict with the farmers, as they wander out of the reserve in search of food and water,” he said.
“On yet another side of the reserve is a grape farm (vineyard) with electrical fencing that blocks free movement of blackbuck. The area under grape cultivation is increasing by the day. Sand mining [trucks] rip through the sanctuary at very high speeds every day during early hours as this route is a short cut. This ruins habitat plus poses roadkill risks to the blackbuck and other wildlife.”
He added: "There are a lot of sheep [where] the blackbuck share their habitat. The sheep herders use dogs to protect their livestock and these dogs sometimes prey on newborn blackbuck.”