THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: After 16 years, A. S. Harshad, 42, reptile keeper at Thiruvananthapuram Zoo, has been made permanent. Mr Harshad tried to commit suicide by getting locked himself in the King Cobra enclosure during the previous government. The Kattakada native grew amidst snakes and animals as his family was running a street circus troupe across the state for several decades.
The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, which has been implemented strictly since the mid-90s sounded the death knell for his family business. His association with animals and snakes led him to apply for a keeper job at the city zoo in 2002. After two years, the then zoo authorities entrusted him to take care of the deadly reptiles which he has dutifully been discharging, including taking care of the 7 green anacondas. The relief was writ large on the face of Mr Harshad when he received the order from K. Gangadharan, director of the museum and zoo stating he's a permanent reptile keeper.
“Odds were against me most of the time with my colleagues themselves trying to block my appointment. Finally, I had to approach the Kerala Administrative Tribunal which ruled in my favour. Now I can work every day unlike the daily wager status where I could work only half a month mostly”, he said. Recently, Mr Harshad and his nine-year-old son, Abin, met with a motorcycle accident causing a debt of almost `2 lakh towards the surgery. But the zoo staff rallied behind him and paid off the private hospital’s exorbitant bill.
His wife, Sheeja, had to quit her job as a counter sales staff to take care of their son. Now he would get Rs 23,000 as monthly salary instead of `630 a day he used to get. K. Subhash, S. Rajesh Kumar, Anil Kumar, A. S. Saji, V. S. Manu and S. L. Sreejith have also been made permanent zookeepers. Five more vacancies are remaining for the past ten years.