Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Asiatic Lion king: Hunted and harassed


The Times of India  - Himanshu Kaushik


AHMEDABAD: The work of the ugly tourist can be seen at many places — on heritage structures smeared with graffiti, among the litter in forests and around water-bodies and in broken beer bottles on beaches.


While Gir, the only home of the Asiatic Lion, needs to attract more tourists, lessons could be drawn from this picture clicked by wildlife photographer Mukesh Acharya in early 2006.


A tourist vehicle chasing a hapless lion — all for kicks — that some uncivilised humans get out of a sense of power over the king of the jungle. While such incidents are rare in the sanctuary, tourists often bribe the driver and the guide to allow them the sadistic pleasure of a chase.


Even in the area outside the sanctuary which has nearly 100 lions, such incidents are commonplace. When a lion kills its prey, villagers often try to drive the lions away with jeeps and tractors even while the beasts are feeding on the kill.


Besides, there is the problem of pilgrims visiting the four temples inside the sanctuary who often start cooking food along the way and leave burning fires behind.


Forest officials are nervous about increased tourist traffic inside Gir and feel that conservation and tourism can go hand in hand only if the animals are allowed privacy.Any viewing has to be done from a safe distance and without intrusion.


"While we treat these instances inside the sanctuary as rare, there is need for tourists to exercise restraint and respect the fact that the lion has the first right over this territory," says Bharat Pathak, conservator of forest.

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