Wednesday, April 25, 2007

It is high time to take the stock of remaining Asiatic Lions

It is high time to take the stock of remaining lions


Three lion bodies were found on 3rd March. Three more found on 30th March which was at a distance of 6- 7 km from the place of first incidence. But two more found on 14th April were at Bhavnagar district which is at a distance of 100 Km from Gir!!


In all the three incidences exactly the same modus operandi of killing is used. First animals are caught by traps and then killed by inserting poisonous spears. Once the animals are dead poachers professionally (brutally!) cut the bodies, boiled the body parts in hot water and buried them inside the land for few days to separate flesh from the bones. They preserved claws in salt water.


Poachers had hidden traps and cleaned body parts like bones, skin, and claws (that were not sent away) in an underground hall which was accessed from main person’s tent. The access is in the form of a small tunnel (similar to a mouse burrow) below the floor carpet. The main boss would put his hands through this tunnel and get the things when needed. This is what Police found while digging the river bed in Una where the gangs had lodged.


Arrested MP poachers are in big numbers (18 – 20) with females and children. They tried to camouflage by selling balloons, toys etc. When caught, they tried to act as poor to gain sympathy.


Above all they bear typical characteristics of Katni poachers and that is what exactly investigating officials have found out. Now let us also look at some more dangerous characteristics and style of operating of these Katni poachers.


Katni gangs have been found to be involved in poaching throughout India. Basically poaching is their bread - butter and survival.


From cases of tiger & other wild animals poaching in MP, Rajasthan and North India, where Katnis are involved, it is learnt that that these gangs strike in many separate groups of 10- 20 each and that too in different areas of jungle. So far in our poaching case only two separate groups are found and that too 100 km apart from each other.


A Million Dollar question is how many groups were involved and how many areas in our forest did they operate in?


Last poaching incidence was unearthed only after the villagers accidentally found it. At the same few gang members were arrested by coincidence by Bhavnagar Police. The gang was found first and then the mutilated bodies. Gang showed the place of buried remains.


This again poses another pertinent question; how many incidences are still not found nor are unnoticed where gangs have already done their job, buried the remains and escaped?


Past history confirms that where ever Katnis operate or strike, animals are just wiped off within couple of months. Eg. Sariska.


The crucial question is how many of our lions they have killed or what is the total damage?


At the same time, in last couple of years there have been many incidences of natural deaths, deaths due to open well accidents and electrocution. 


Taking into consideration all of the above, it is utmost necessary to find out how many of our precious lions have we lost, by conducting a lion census. We cannot excavate the whole forest neither buried dead bodies will transmit signal nor escaped Katnis will come back to tell us how many have they killed. A full census of whole of Gir and satellite areas of Jesar-:Palitana-Bhavnagar, Hipavadli, Mityala, Diu & coastal forests is the urgent need of the hour. Forest officials did try head count but that was only in Babariya range. Although full census is a big exercise, time consuming and expensive, it is of paramount importance at this crucial time. Let us take stock of our lions to find out are they 359 (last census figure) or 259?


Today in the news papers I read that Central Govt. Committee who visited Gir for appraisal of incidences may instruct our Govt. to conduct census. Why don’t we declare the census before they tell us to do so? This would be an added benefit to show that we do care.


Kishore Kotecha

Wildlife Conservation Trust of India


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