Thursday, March 22, 2007

Open wells turn fatal for Gir lions


Times of India By: Himanshu Kaushik


SASAN: It is a vicious circle in Gir the farmer digs a well to irrigate his crops, lions stray into fields in search of prey and water and fall prey to these wells. These are typical pits, over 100 feet deep, but without parapets, which turns them into a major hazard for the Asiatic lion.


Last month, two lion cubs were chased into a well. Last Saturday, two cubs accidentally fell into an open well in Dhari range and died. Forest officials say, at least eight adult lions and leopards were rescued from such wells, last year.


This should have provoked the authorities to do something, but the issue invariably gets mired in jurisdiction problems. Forest officials say they can do nothing about farmers digging such wells outside the sanctuary, because they are under the district collector's jurisdiction.


Alongside the road from Una to Jasadhar, there are several such open wells in fields which have no barricade either. Conservator of forest, Bharat Pathak says, "This is a costly affair,we have so far covered about 700 wells in Gir forest, but many well are still open."


According to him, the six-km radius of the sanctuary had about 8,000 open wells. Forest officials say that when these wells are dry, it is easy to rescue the big cats but not in winter when the water table rises, filling the wells.


A senior officer pleading anonymity, estimates there are at least 1,000 such wells (15 feet wide and 15 feet deep), which are not in fields, thus making it difficult to fix accountability. According to this officer, this did not amount to a criminal offence. Neither have any cases been registered by the district administration against anyone's wells becoming death traps for lions. Amreli collector M Shahid says, "The collector does not have powers. There should be better co-ordination between the forest department and government agencies. There should be an adequate policy to cover these wells".

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