Friday, April 20, 2007

Gir lions move closer to extinction

IBN Live - By Prerna Varma Dated: April 15, 2007


New Delhi: The death of 18 big cats including 12 Asiatic lions and six leopards in a span of just 30 days last month has put a big question mark over the safety and security of wildlife habitants in the Gir forest sanctuary.


Of the 12 lion deaths, six were allegedly killed by a gang of poachers from the neighbouring Madhya Pradesh to sell their skin, claws and skull in the international market.


Of the six leopard deaths, two each died in Eastern and Western Ranges of Gir Forest, while one each died in Girnar and Sakarbaug Zoo.


The Central government has now decided to send a ‘high power team’ from Environment and Forest Ministry to look into the matter. But how much will it help the situation—can be enumerated by the following report.


The CID team in Gujarat has so far detained over 20 people, including a 15-member gang that admits to selling bones, skin and claws to leather merchants of Ahmedabad. Yet, what legal course of action has been taken against them remains unclear. There was not a single report that would say whether any of the poachers was awarded any kind of punishment.


A government body framed to ensure tiger conservation plans to take “effective steps” to stop poaching. The Gujarat Lion Conservation Society has big plans on paper, which include installing CCTVs, global positioning systems, special mobile units and other hi-tech gadgets in the sanctuary.


It says it will monitor the movements of wildlife in the notified areas henceforth. The only problem is that there are no animals left in the sanctuary to be monitored anyways.


There is a huge gap between rhetoric and ground reality when it comes to wildlife protection in India. Going by the government estimates of 2005, there were 300 Asiatic lions left in the country. Today, the true figure may be even less than one hundred.


The conviction rate and punishments remain abysmally low. Several cases reveal a close nexus between corrupt forest officials and poachers that works for the mutual benefit of both. Skin, claws and bones are sold in open market and yet, no concrete steps are taken to punish the guilty. Most of the poachers are either never convicted, or even if they are, setting free is not such a big deal for them.


Poaching will stop, no doubt, but perhaps at a time when there will be no more lions left to be killed in any of the sanctuaries.

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