Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wells turn death traps, foresters helpless

Ahmedabad, November 8:  By: Brahmananda Shasmal
A 14-year-old lionesss died in Pachpachiya village near Tulsishyam range in Gir East after falling into a 100 feet-deep well.
A lion was found dead in a blind well in Gir sanctuary area.
A leopard was found dead in a blind well (without parapet walls) near Talda village of Khamba taluka on the outskirts of Gir sanctuary
These are few of the several incidents where the wild cats of Gir met a watery grave. While the Forest Department is raising a hue and cry about a chinkara being filmed during the shooting of Lagaan eight years ago in Kutch, they are silent about the fact that the wild cats are meeting their death after falling into open wells around the Gir Sanctuary — sole abode of the Asiatic lion.
‘‘Every year there are at least 15 such deaths,’’ says Amit Jetva, president of Gir Nature Youth Club. ‘‘There are more than 6,000 blind wells within a 6 km-radius of the sanctuary’s borders. The number of wells has gone up in the past couple of years. Saurashtra is an arid zone where farmers dig wells for irrigation purposes. But these are the very areas that fall in the lion’s migration path. So the Forest Department as well as the State Government should take an initiative to protect these wild cats, which are the pride of the State and nation as well,’’ he says.
Forest officials say lions and leopards usually fall into the blind wells while hunting at night. In pursuit of stray cattle or other prey foraging in the fields or farms on the sanctuary’s periphery, they often fall into these wells and drown before anyone can even spot them.
As more land comes under cultivation around the Sanctuary, the number of blind wells are rising, posing a threat to wild cats.
Sadly, except for appealing to the farmers to cover the wells, there is nothing much that the Forest Department can do as their jurisdiction does not cover these revenue areas.
Pradeep Khanna, Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), says, ‘‘We have left no well uncovered within the sanctuary area. There are over 6,000 wells on the periphery of the sanctuary and these are on private land. In these areas, we are requesting farmers to cover these wells or erect some visible barriers so that wild cats can be prevented from falling into these wells.’’
He said, ‘‘It’s not that the Forest Department is doing nothing to save the wild cats. There were several incidents where our staffers had rescued animals from wells.’’
“We cannot prevent such deaths as the lion migration area is vast. We can help farmers to construct parapets, cover wells or create visible barriers, but we cannot lend financial assistance to all farmers to construct parapets. There are some motivating NGOs, who have offered to help farmers construct parapets and pile up wooden brush over the well,’’ says Bharat Pathak, conservator of forests, Junagadh, adding, ‘‘If the farmers can dig wells at a cost of Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000, they can afford another Rs 2,000 to construct parapets over the wells.’’
When asked about the death of lions, Minister of Forest and Environment Mangubhai Patel says, ‘‘Every state should make provisions for the development of sanctuary area. It is sad that lions are dying in this manner. However, figures also reveal that there has been a rise in the number of lions. Now, there are 359 lions in the sanctuary.’’
To prevent such incidents, Jetva has a solution. ‘‘All it requires is proper legislation. People in lion migration areas must be forbidden to construct wells. There are more than 150 lions in non-protected areas. That lions are dying in this way just shows how careless the authorities are,’’ he says.

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