African cub Zoya would have joined her white cobra attacker in the great zoo in the sky had Tata Steel Zoological Park vet Manik Palit not saved her life.
Jamshedpur-based Tata zoo, which kept the news of the encounter between its prized Pretoria royals and the deadly seven-feet trespasser on December 2 under wraps till The Telegraph flashed it on January 18 (Hushed-up cobra attack on cubs), has won praise from animal experts such as Chennai-based Romulus Whitaker for treatment.
The unprecedented white cobra attack could have cost the zoo at least one precious lion cub, a shame the otherwise top-notch zoo would have found tough to live down. Though zoo security has been proven to be lax and officials secretive, the zoo has at least given injured lions speedy and correct treatment.
The reptile, sneaking inside the enclosure, had sunk its fangs into Zoya, Salya and Ed. Kimu and Jumbo, away from the site, were spared. "Zoya was most critical as she was attacked on her lower lip, abdomen and right leg. Salya and Ed took the venom on their paw and leg," said Palit.
Recounting his Herculean efforts, Palit, who got a first class distinction from Bihar Veterinary College in Patna in 1991, said the toughest part was keeping his head cool at the sight of the dead cobra and gasping lions.
"A caretaker rang me up to inform me that the lions were playing with a snake in the afternoon of December 2. When I reached the site, the cobra was dead and three lions were clearly ill. We tied their feet with a rope and pulled them one by one inside a cell," Palit said.
Upon examination, the extent of the danger dawned on Palit.
"Saving Zoya was top priority. Antivenin polyvalent was injected into her body, she was put on saline and given supportive medicines such as Avil, Dexamethasone and antibiotics. I dressed her wounds and tested her blood regularly to assess damage to vital organs like kidney and liver," the vet said.
To make matters worse, Zoya developed gangrene. "She was in great pain. But she fought for her life," the vet said.
Salya and Ed, who were dressed with bandages every day initially and on alternate days later, recovered fast. Ed was released into the enclosure in three days. Salya was kept with Zoya for mental support. "While medicines did their job, Salya kept up Zoya's spirits," he said.
The decision paid off. Zoya took a month but recovered fully. She was released in the enclosure on January 3.
Palit added the cubs were served 7kg chicken and 2 litres of milk twice daily.
Now that the three cubs are fit and playful, Palit can afford to relax. "Yes, it has been a taxing time. Like every citizen of Jamshedpur, we love the African lion quintet," he said.
What about Madras Snake Park founder Whitaker complimenting Palit on his medical expertise? "Yes, Whitaker congratulated me as white cobra venom is fatal," Palit said.
Zoo director Bipul Chakravarty, who initially had refused to admit the attack, now confessed that saving the lions "was a huge task". Tata Steel Zoological Society secretary P.R. Prasad also praised Palit. "Palit worked very hard to save the lions," he said.