Kothamangalam: A financial scam has come to light from the Forest Department-run Abhayaranyam mini-zoo at Kaprikkad village near Kothamangalam in Kerala's Ernakulam district. The report of the Divisional Forest Officer (Flying Squad), Ernakulam, has revealed that serious misappropriations had been committed in the name of animals for a few years.
It has been found that a conspiracy had been hatched by officials of the eco-tourism project to swindle around half a crore of rupees by exaggerating the number of sambar deer at the zoo. They forged evidence in this regard after destroying the original records. The fudging of accounts, which was going on from 2019, was unearthed after a new Range Officer, who took charge, personally counted the sambar deer.
The money was embezzled by recording in the register that 158 sambar deer, instead of the factual 135 animals, were being maintained in the zoo and claiming that Rs 8,300 was being spent on feed for each animal every month. Several corrections were found in the register of birth of sambar deer.
Top officials attempted to wriggle out of the scam by arranging false witness statements claiming that the records had been destroyed in floods and forcing the zoo watchers to overwrite vouchers.
The investigation report states that there was an attempt to force lower-level workers to forge records when the officials feared getting caught. At first, the culprits claimed that the register that has to be maintained at the zoo was lost in floods. But, the flood took place in the area in 2018. It was found that registers for years after the floods are also not being kept deliberately.
The investigation report was submitted to the Inspection and Evaluation Conservator, Kozhikode, and Vigilance Additional Principal Conservator. A report will be handed over to the government with their recommendations for further action.
The report has listed out in a serial order the names of officials responsible. All the officials involved in the scam were transferred the same day. The flying squad was entrusted with the responsibility of conducting the high-level probe after Manorama reported on the fraud. The zoo is being maintained with the motto, “shelter for orphaned animals”.