Murder Most Foul!

Toby Ninan retired from Delhi Zoo about two years back. With his varied experiences with the wild animals in the zoo, he is the right person to direct your queries to. Hear what Ninan has to say about his life and chosen career!

Early morning calls are no novelty when one is the curator of a zoo like the Delhi Zoo. In fact calls to come and attend an emergency at any odd time of the day and night actually add some spice to the mundane duties of the zookeeper.

Well, this call was from the chowkidar on duty around the lion house beat and he seemed to be unduly perturbed. I thought to myself- may be there is a lion let lose, or may be a snake has got into the lion den. But the alarm was of a different kind-a young man's body was floating in the moat of the lion enclosure. I reached the lion enclosure and found the chowkidar's story to b true. Ram Lall was not out of his mind- nor was he in the throes of an early morning nightmare!

There was not much one could do except inform the Director, the police and the keeper of lions-in that order. Soon after morning attendance, all the keepers and their assistants went first to the lion house to see the 'floating body'. They would have liked to hang around sharing some juicy gossip but I shooed them away and waited for the police to arrive. Ram Prashad, the lion housekeeper and his assistants meanwhile swept the enclosure cells clean and instead of the stink of lion excreta and urine, there was a welcome smell of the disinfectant and also the aroma of "dhoop" ( incense) specially burnt for the "lion mata" ( godess).

The police did arrive and they took out the body of a young man in his late twentys who seemed to be well dressed. I told the Sub Inspector Police that after they have completed all the formalities, they were welcome to come and have a chat with me in the office by about 12.30 PM when I would be going home for lunch.

I did not expect much to come out of this 'murder' but I was wrong. In fact our zoo was instrumental in providing a vital clue which sent the police on their investigating trail.

Just on impulse I checked the entry register of the service gate chowkidar ( the service gate is used by staff and other regular service providers to the zoo). I found that an entry was made at about 11.30 PM ( the night before) and was told that a fiat car had entered the zoo and was going to the house of some "Nathu Singh or Khem Singh' who did not exist! Visitors normally use the main gate to enter the compound of the zoo. Well, the surprise was that, the service gate chowkidar had heeded some earlier warnings and entered the car number in his register.

The police took up this clue and the culprit was caught. He turned out to be the father-in-law of the murdered man. The man had done away ( by poisoning) with his son-in-law and thrown him into the lion's moat thinking that the lions would eat the body and thus destroy evidence.

What he did not know was that lions would be shut in their dens at night and none of them would have cared to make a meal of the dead 'in-law' or should I say 'out-law' to oblige 'pop-in-law'!!

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