The Silver City of Cuttack gets its own distinct flavour of quaint Odia culture, unlike the metro feel of the capital city, from all that it is brewed. More than a thousand years old, this city may not be a place for many tourist attractions but is home to more than a few historically symbolic institutions, temples, markets, artistic crafts and food traditions.Deer park, nestled on the quieter banks of river Mahanadi in Madhusudan Nagar near Biju Patnaik Chowk, which is being maintained by the Cuttack Municipal Corporation is one of the major attractions of the city. While these innocent spotted sprinters for years have carved a happy space in the hearts of people belonging to the city, the same cannot be said about their habitat. The park has been entangled in problems over the last few years for more than one reason, lack of adequate space, being one of them.
Originally set up in an area of four acres in 1980, the park should ideally accommodate not more than 50 deer according to the guidelines of Central Zoo Authority (CZA). However, the population now stands at 165, including males, females and fawn.
Although the civic authorities had decided to come up with a second deer park on a much larger scale as part of a beautification drive of the city and also to accommodate the excess animals, the plan has been embroiled in controversies, moving at a snail’s pace.
The overcrowding has taken a toll on the living conditions of the mammals. It has also led to inbreeding causing many genetic defects in the captive animals. The CZA has been raising objection on this issue for a decade now and has also threatened to cancel the license of the park but the CMC has been unable to take any action in this regard.
According to Cuttack Municipal Commissioner Gyanaranjan Das, the CMC has been tapping on possible locations to rehabilitate these animals. “The new site will not just accommodate the excess number of animals but also incorporate many other recreational facilities for visitors. It will be a part of the beautification programme of the city and the investment will be taken from the revenue income of the corporation. But we are yet to implement our plans as suitable land is yet to be allocated for the project. As of now, we have segregated the males from the females to control the multiplying population of deer in the park,” adds Das.
The overpopulation has also raised concern over the healthcare facilities for the animals as there is no adequate veterinary care available during emergency situations. Further since these deer have been bred in captive, they have lost their natural instincts to survive in a natural environment.
They also invariably suffer from mild forms of tuberculosis and thus cannot be released into the wild as they carry the threat of infecting other wild animals. Nandankanan Zoo in Barang and other sanctuaries too have refused to take these animals as it may disturb their eco-system.
But overcrowding is not the only problem the park is encountering. Although the deer park has always been a prime location for tourists in Cuttack, it has seen very few changes ecologically as well as aesthetically, over the years. “We have been noticing many deficiencies in the maintenance of the park for quite a long time. The foliage is very less compared to the deer population and I believe that the park should be given a facelift by planting more trees and thus also help the animals battle the heat wave during summer,” says Rohan Nayak, a local resident and a philotherian.
Lack of sufficient shelters is, in fact, a major problem for the mammals even during monsoons. Water logging inside the park premises add to their woes as they struggle to find dry patches. The animals fall sick either from drinking the collected water or of pneumonia.
Yet another issue has been lack of security around the park to keep away unruly visitors, who feed the animals despite the iron-wired standoff barrier, making them sick. However, denying these allegations, Gyana Ranjan Das tells us that they are maintaining the park to their best of efforts, and are alert in keeping away any disturbance for the animals.
“The establishment already violates the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and Wildlife Protection Act. Though the park cannot be shut down immediately till the existing population remains, it has very limited space and the breeding should be stopped immediately till a second site is ascertained,” concludes Wildlife conservationist and environmentalist Biswajit Mohanty.