Nandankanan Zoological Park on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar is home to many animals, each one unique and special in its own way. However, there is one animal that has been the cynosure of all eyes for some time. Forty-year-old Binny, the lone orangutan of the country, has lived in Nandankanan since 2003. Recently, there have been reports that the gentle animal is not in good health. Sunday POST visited the park to find out more about Binny’s health condition.
Speculations about Binny’s health seem to be true as she was kept away from public view when Sunday POST visited the zoo two days in a row. On condition of anonymity, Nandankanan employees told us that Binny is being kept out of sight after media highlighted that the animal was not being properly taken care of. Many visitors uploaded videos of the ailing Binny that quickly became viral and even invited a letter from Maneka Gandhi.
An employee who is in-charge of the animal says, “Binny was brought to Nandankanan from Pune’s Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park November 20, 2003, when she was only 25 years old in exchange for two elephants. She was earlier brought to India from Australia.”
Elaborating on Binny, he says, “Though gigantic, she is quite gentle. She always keeps to herself. She is uniquely arboreal, living away from other animals quietly. I have been with Binny for so many years, but I have never seen her attacking anyone. Most of her behavioural patterns match those of human beings. As she has none from her species to give company, she often seems unhappy. Her morning starts with fruits like two bananas and an apple besides tomatoes. At 9 am, she eats a boiled egg with boiled milk. She takes food like human beings. A large portion of her day is spent sitting idle and consuming food. Her diet primarily consists of fruit but she also eats leaves, bark, flowers, insects, and eggs. Under different environmental conditions, she appears to readily adapt socially, and, like other nonhuman primates, she has the capacity to exhibit complex and subtle social behaviour. I am hopeful that Binny will get well soon.”
Animal lovers’ concern
Meanwhile, animal lovers across the state have expressed resentment over the zoo authorities’ lackadaisical attitude towards the country’s only orangutan. They allege that Binny has been undergoing treatment for an infected wound in her throat for the past one year, but she has not shown any improvement. Binny has been in great pain due to pus formation in her wound. The wound also causes itching and its size is increasing by the day due to bleeding. Although the veterinary doctors of Nandankanan have administered injections and medicines, no improvement has been detected so far in her condition, say animal lovers. She is given multivitamins to get rid of fatigue and weakness caused by old age, but in vain. Now it is time medical experts from abroad are consulted to save her life, say the animal lovers.
Debabrata Parida says, “Actually, little attention has been paid to the captive great ape, and I think it’s important to understand that she also has a life, an existence, in the zoo. She should be leading her life in a large open space. Binny who is in enclosure number 31 (B) in the zoological park does not have enough space to lead a happy life. Besides, she needs a partner albeit she is an animal. She has become prone to disease because of her loneliness. Though she has spent more than a decade at the zoo, the authorities have failed to bring a partner for her. Every month, two-three animals die at the zoo due to lack of care. Before it is too late, the zoo authorities should take immediate measures to resolve the issue.”
Wildlife activist Bibhudatta Jena says, “Since 2003, Binny has been staying at Nandankanan alone as the authorities could not bring a partner for her. If she dies due to age-related ailments and wound infection, the orangutan species will disappear from the country. Frankly speaking, the veterinary doctors treating Binny are not wildlife veterinary doctors. Regular veterinary doctors do not have adequate knowledge on foreign species. They have not received special training or attended workshops to learn how to treat animals like an orangutan. Their treatment methods just follow the textbooks of medical science. I doubt whether our so-called wildlife veterinarians have ever dissected an animal after its death. I would like to say most of the disease-stricken animals die due to the trial and error methods applied by doctors having zero experience on wildlife. If you visit any zoo in foreign countries, you will see that the caretakers assigned to look after animals there are scientists and research scholars. But caretakers at Nandankanan zoo are temporary workers and have no idea about animal psychology. Zoo employees are merely government servants not wildlife lovers and they don’t have a bond with animals. Most importantly, zoo authorities gear up to treat animals after their condition has worsened. That is why experts from a foreign country must be brought to treat Binny.”
Former wildlife warden of Khurda district and a member of People for Animals, Sanjib Kumar Das holds similar views. “Nandankanan is the only zoo in the country to shelter an orangutan. It is really sad that the zoo staffers are not aware of her captive habitat and behaviour. The veterinary doctors at the zoo have no wildlife experience. It is high time we called experts from outside for her treatment. The orangutan species will become totally extinct from India after Binny,” he says.
The zoo’s response
Sarat Kumar Sahu, Veterinary Assistant Surgeon of the zoo, says, “We have consulted experts in OUAT and our technical team for Binny’s treatment. We held a meeting recently and she is being treated as discussed in the meeting. She is growing old now. We cannot opt for any strong treatment as it could then put her life at risk. She has a wound in her throat pouch. With age, the throat pouch grows day by day. She is in pain because of the infection that causes itching. Though she is kept out of visitors’ view, her food intake and other activities are normal. Since her skin needs sunlight to heal, she will be let out in the open soon.”
RASHMI REKHA DAS, OP