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Chhatbir Zoo
This work can chew you alive
Megha Mann
Tribune News Service

Chhatbir, October 6
Jaws, claws, horns, fangs, stomping feet and wild fierceness give these individuals their daily dose of work-related stress. The ones they serve can be moody to the extent of being murderous. A lot of us work at places where the competition might eat us alive. In their case the competition is the least of their worries as they have real wild animals to carry out the eating alive bit.

Gurnam Singh has had a near death experience with his flesh torn off exposing his spine and him being left profusely bleeding, followed by months of hospitalisation. Yet he continues to look after the wild animals in Mahendra Chaudhary Zoological Park in Chhatbir.

As the Wildlife Week continues, these persons are active behind the scenes as they have been for the past many years.

Khushal Singh has lost his thumb to the wildness of animals and Aujid Thakur has suffered a dislocated hip joint. Some, like Rajinder Singh have lost their lives to animals and yet his brother Mohan Singh works with a zest and enthusiasm for animals.

All these at Chhatbir share the stories of being attacked by the animals during their working hours. While most of them have fallen prey to unpredictable behaviour of the Himalayan bear, others have been attacked by tuskers and simians.

A bear attacked Gurnam while it was being shifted from Amritsar to Chhatbir. The bear left Gurnam half dead with the flesh of his back, groin and arms torn apart. For months together Gurnam lay in ICU and regained normal health after a year. “It happened in 1982. But after few months I was back to work,” says Gurnam.

Similarly, Charan Singh, who was with Gurnam at the time of incident, lost his thumb in the later years. He also saved a Manimajra resident who tried to commit suicide by jumping into the lion's enclosure.

In 1983, a lion killed its caretaker Rajinder Singh while he was cleaning its enclosure. The animal caught hold of Rajinder’s head and dragged him inside its cave. “Had Rajinder not closed the door of enclosure, the animal could have attacked the visitors. Rajinder died, but saved many others,” says Harpal Singh.

Rajinder's death resulted in increased safety measures for keeping animals.

Some, like Nitin Basu Matari, have been fortunate enough to escape the misfortune. A mahout, Basu was attacked by an elephant. Being slim he got stuck between the tusks of animals and managed to escape after scaling the wall. Another employee, Akhtar Khan, lost his front teeth to an elephant's tail.

“Despite these incidents, these employees have never lost their zeal to work,” says field director Dharminder Sharma.

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