AHMEDABAD: A gang of poachers has been meticulously stalking the King of the Jungle in its own home in Gir forest since last month. And the forest department learnt this only after finding the remains of the dead lions.
Six lions have been killed, skinned, boned, and their claws and hide probably traded, in two episodes of poaching in the Gir sanctuary, the latest being on Thursday.
Officials probing the March 3 poaching incident "accidentally" found remains of three more Asiatic lions scattered outside a village on Thursday. Both killings seemed like the handiwork of a gang ensconced in the only abode of the Asiatic lions in the world.
The incidents show how exposed the sanctuary is to hunters and poachers and that the intelligence network of the forest officials has completely collapsed.
Officials recall how earlier the local villagers, mainly from the maldhari community and farmers with farming rights in the forest, would report anything amiss in the forest. For years nothing had disturbed this natural cohabitation of man and beast till the eco-development project came along.
Under the pretext of this project, officials say, for the past couple of years maldharis have been herded out of the forest. This has not only disturbed their settlements but has also made them hostile towards the authorities. Gir now has some 2,000 maldharis residing in the jungle, which sources say is at least 30 per cent less than their population three years ago.
A senior forest officer pleading anonymity said, "There are 130-odd villages on the periphery of Gir jungle that used to guard the big cats. Even the spotting of an unidentified vehicle would be reported." Now there is a wide chasm between the local forest officers and the people.
Things have come to such a pass that during the recent Assembly session, a group of 15 MLAs visiting Dholeshwar dam inside the sanctuary spotted something floating in the water. They first dismissed it as a gunny bag, but later they realised it was a lion carcass.
The officials now suspect the locals to have been lured by lucre offered by poachers. A forest officer who lent an ear to the maldharis said, "I could sense the simmering frustration and hatred deep inside them against the local officers."