The Department of Museums and Zoos, in collaboration with the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Mannuthy, plans to introduce a six-month certificate course for training zookeepers this academic year.
This is in the wake of zookeeper vacancies lying unoccupied in the state’s zoos for years. In the Thiruvananthapuram zoo, of the 31 zookeeper posts, nearly half are now vacant. In Thrissur five of 11 posts are unoccupied. Some of these vacancies were formed about five years ago.
Both zoos have been unable to recruit new personnel, as one of the eligibility criteria for zookeepers is two years’ experience in the upkeep of wild animals and birds. It is rare to find someone who matches this criteria. So, an advertisement inviting zookeepers published in February received no response. B Joseph, Director, Department of Museums and Zoos, said that the norm made sense years ago, when animal trainers from various circus troupes were aplenty.
Without enough zookeepers, the zoos started recruiting casual labourers on contract basis. After every six months, their contract tenure is extended. Now, some of them have over ten years of experience in zookeeping, but none on paper. For the lack of an experience certificate, the
Employment Exchange will not consider their names for the zoo vacancies.
The Director said that some temporary recruits had demanded permanent employment. One such case was pleaded before the the High Court, but was eventually rejected, he said.
The Department of Museums and Zoos is not planning to send the casual labourers doubling as zookeepers to train in Mannuthy. Being dependent on daily wages, they rarely miss a day of work. Anxious about their temporary status, they put in quality hours. And it is they who will lose their job, when the first batch pass the brand-new certificate course.