Some lions should be shifted to MP
A member of Cat Specialist Group, a Species Survival Commission set up by World Conservation Union, earlier known as International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), Chavda says, the obvious solution is to create another home for the Asiatic lion before it is too late, at a distance from its present location.
Author of Hunting Leopard Cheetah, "End of trail, the Cheetah in India", published by Oxford University Press and The Story of Asia's Lions published by MARG, Chavda says, "At the outset, the forest department's field staff must be strengthened by filling up positions lying vacant for several years for better patrolling.
They must have the permission to use their weapon against poachers and illegal entrants. The
He says shifting few pairs of lions to Madhya Pradesh is also necessary keeping in mind the possibility of an epidemic in Gir, the main reason behind the big cat's extinction in
"Lions started dying large numbers in Ngorongoro Crater in
"If an epidemic spreads in Gir forest, it would be difficult to save the rare species of Asiatic lions as the Gir forest is only spread across 1,412 sq km," he adds.
POACHING LIONS : STALKING THE KING'S LAIR
Tehelka By: Mihir Srivastava
There is a new surge in demand for lion body parts in
In two separate incidents in March, remains of six poached lions were recovered from the Babariya range of the
This is new for Gir. "It is for the first time the organised poaching network has targeted lions," says Belinda Wright, head of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of
The Katni gang consists of hunting tribes, the Bahilyas in this particular case, who are made to travel far and wide for poaching operations by illegal wildlife traders in
Apart from lion skulls, skin and other body parts, the recoveries made at the site of the killing included iron traps, kerosene stoves, utensils and skinning knives. This shows that the Bahilyas here followed their typical modus operandi of poaching tigers elsewhere in the country.
1936 First lion census conducted, estimated lion population: 287
1968 The number of lions drops to 177
1972 Gir lion sanctuary project initiated. 580 of the 845 Maldhari families living in the forest shifted
1995 The lion population crosses 300 mark
Fifteen women were among 17 Bahilya tribe members arrested at their camp on the dry riverbed of Machhundri inside the protected area, about 15 km from the site of the crime. The men had managed to escape. The investigation trail later led the CID to
Wright calls it a break from the past, and sees it as the beginning of a new phase in poaching of wildcat in India that has the potential of wiping out the only Asiatic lion population in the world. "It is still too early to say that lion body parts are being passed on as that of tigers. But it is also true that the organised poachers are in communication with the traders in
The information from
Tiger bones are the most valuable ingredient in the age-old Chinese traditional medicine system and are believed to cure rheumatism and arthritis and increase life span. Tigers' eyeballs are used to treat epilepsy, their bile for convulsions, their whiskers for toothache and their penises make for a potent sexual tonic. With the modernisation and economic boom sweeping the Chinese mainland, belief in traditional medicine has actually gone up. More and more people are acquiring the financial means to afford traditional treatment.
This has skyrocketed the prices and demand. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) believes that at least one tiger is killed daily for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Now that tigers are hard to find, lions are being made effective substitutes. In all likelihood, lion bones fetch the same price as the tiger's as there is no visual difference.
To meet the demand
The big cats' carcasses are dumped in huge vats of rice wine and left to rot for up to nine years. The Chinese believe that the tiger's strength passes into the wine as its body decomposes. They are then sold in tiger-shaped bottles of bone-strengthening wine of about £60 each. Apart from the livestock, the farm has a stockpile of skeletons of 600 tigers, lions and other animals in 100 refrigerators in underground caverns because there is no space to put them all in alcohol. The stock is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
But this does not seem to be sufficient. The soaring prices of tiger/lion bones and rapid increase in demand have become a powerful incentive to poach. The price is estimated to be between US$140-$370 per kilogram depending on the size of the bones. In
In 2005, the Xiongsen wine company received permission from the State Forestry Administration and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce to produce 4,00,000 bottles of "Bu Gu Jiu" bone strengthening wine. The name sounds like the tiger bone wine "Hu Gu Jiu" and the packaging is suggestive of tiger contents, although the approved wildlife ingredients are of the African lion. The reported annual sale is about 2,00,000 bottles for profits that run into millions. Also, the restaurants here offer an extraordinary range of dishes: a plate of lion meat is served for 380 yuan.
A delegation of the Chinese government at last year's 54th meeting of the cities standing committee distributed a statement that said: "A law enforcement investigation was made immediately and the report arrived at the top wildlife authority in China on August 29 advising that only 16 legally obtained lion carcasses were found, and no tiger bone was used to produce wine." The statement went on to say that any association of the tiger with the wine was only a kind of advertisement, like the popular Tiger Beer brand in
Statements from the forest department in
Sharma also holds the Central government responsible for the lion killings. "The Central government has failed to check the rampant organised trade in animal parts and now Gir has to bear the consequences," he said. Wright does not agree. "That the Central government has not done enough to check wildlife crime in
The state's forest department staff is ageing with an average age over 45. No recruitment has been done at the lower levels for the past 20 years. As a result there is virtually no night patrolling, informs a former chief of the GNP. This has allowed a free run to poachers and illegal night safaris are the order of the day. While Sharma denied any knowledge of night safaris, Khanna acknowledged it.
On why forest officials were unaware of the presence of Bahliyas in GNP even after two months of their arrival, Khanna said there could be no justification for the lapse but justified it all the same. "They come here with agricultural labourers from other states who work in the sugarcane fields in the park's vicinity. We do not want to harass genuine labourers who travel from so far to work," he said.
Khanna's alibi finds no support from senior officials in his own department. "There is no difficulty in locating Bahilyas," says the former GNP chief. "They dress differently, they speak a different language and their looks are strikingly different from the locals. They stay in their secluded camps away from the rest of the labourers. If only the forest staff care to patrol half of the required hours, they would know about their presence."
The whole blame cannot be put on the outside gangs though. Investigations have found that certain local people extended help to the poachers, even though the local Maldhari tribe is known to have contributed in conservation efforts. But a senior forest official says the Maldharis have become very materialistic. "They had pure ghee in their houses not long ago. Now they even sell the milk meant for their children in the market," he says.
On protect lion mission... Modi makes an unplanned visit to Gir
Junagadh, May 2: The Gir killings and the Centre's suggestion to shift some lions to Madhya Pradesh weighing heavily on his mind, Chief Minister Narendra Modi rushed from Junagadh, where he had come to take part in the Gujarat Day state-level celebrations, to Sasan Gir, the headquarters of
Modi was in Sasan Gir for eight hours and chaired three separate meetings. A marathon meeting was held with officials in which State Forest Minister Mangubhai Patel, Urban Development Minister I K Jadeja, Principal Forest Secretary P N Roychaudhary, PCCFs, IGP (Junagadh range) Mohan Jha, Collectors and SPs of the Junagadh, Amreli and
In addition to this, two separate meetings were conducted with the sarpanch of some 27 villages in Gir area, representatives of about 40 NGOs and 30 eco clubs, noted environmentalist and wildlife experts at Sinh-Sadan forest guesthouse. It is learnt that the chief minister was worried about the safety of Gir lions and used the occasion to appeal for the launch of a "Gir Wildlife Friend Mission".
Modi received various suggestions regarding protection and conservation of lions. He said in his meetings that he would seriously consider the suggestions and that the State Government was serious about the poaching cases.
Two months, 50 arrests, CID yet to let cat out of bag
Singh was arrested on April 26, four days before the deadline given to the police by the State Government, and while his five-day remand custody has ended, there is little the CID is willing to let out.
When contacted, IG CID (crime) Keshav Kumar, who is heading the investigation, refused to comment. "We will let you know when the time comes,'' said Kumar when asked about the development of the investigation
In the three poaching cases in the past two months, eight lions have been killed.
Around 50 people, mainly women residing in temporary colonies in Una and Palitana, sites nearer to poaching spots including Babariya range in Gir and Bhandaria village in Palitana taluka of
While Singh has admitted his involvement in the trade of hide and claws, he has all along maintained that he is not involved in the killing of lions in the Gir forest.
For the CID now, the direction of the case would depend on results of brain-mapping and narco-analysis tests on Singh.
A CID source also added that "the bones, hide and claws of the lions, which are vital evidences to prove the poaching case, have not yet been found".
Intelligence network to stop poachers
SASAN/RAJKOT: The state government appears to have finally realised the importance of involving people staying in villages near Gir sanctuary to build up a strong intelligence network, in the wake of several incidents of lion poaching in the recent past.
The government has decided to organise mass contact campaign in the nearby villages.
The move, including a step taken by Chief Minister Narendra Modi to seek suggestions from NGOs engaged in wildlife and forest conservation, eco clubs and sarpanchs of villages bordering Gir sanctuary during his visit to Sasan on Wednesday, comes after the Centre on Monday raked up the issue of shifting lions to Madhya Pradesh. He held a closed door meeting with CID (crime) officials at Sasan.
Additional principal conservator of forest, Pradeep Khanna, said that the department will conduct a campaign to contact people in the nearby villages. He said that the department held a meeting with the leaders from the nesh, the villages of the periphery, volunteers from NGOs and some representatives of eco development committee.
Officials said that the government is going to identify individuals and nature clubs who would secretly work for the forest department and give regular information to the forest department about the suspicious movement in the Gir and nearby areas.
The Maldhari community present in the meeting made representations against shifting them out of Gir. The officials said that this was the major issue which the forest department was tackling as of late, this intelligence network has totally failed because of several reasons. One of the main reasons was the harassment of local people by forest department staff. This was highlighted in a memorandum given to Modi, who was a surprise face in the meeting.
Sarkashlal to be put through narco test
AHMEDABAD: Sarkashlal Singh, the man accused of masterminding the poaching of Asiatic lions within Gir sanctuary, will be put through narco analysis soon.
This move is aimed at helping the yet-unsuccessful hunt for bones and flesh of lions poached by Sarkashlal and his gang of tribals from MP, said police sources.
"Sarkshlal has smuggled the bones out of Gir for illegal sale in the international market, centred in
On Monday, after spending five days in police remand, Singh was produced before a court in Una and sent to judicial custody. During the hearing CID (Crime) officials sought the court's permission to subject Sarkashlal to a variety of forensic tests like brain fingerprinting and narco analysis.
Lion cub found dead
Conservator of forest (wildlife)
The cub is the 18th Asiatic lion to have died in the sanctuary in the past four months.
Shifting lions to MP will be a mistake
Gir lions provide us with probably the only success story of wildlife conservation in
Today, there are 359 lions in the Gir Sanctuary and National Park and its surrounding forest areas. They are, in fact, gradually reclaiming lost territory in the surrounding forest areas. The Gir lions and people living in the sanctuary provide a much-needed example of the benefits of coexistence of wildlife and community to the world.
Conservationists demanding translocation of lions are blindly supporting the statement that "all the eggs should not be in one basket." In case of any epidemic, the entire population of Asiatic lions will disappear. And they quote the example of African lions. Besides, recent incidents of poaching in Gir and Palitana have added fuel to the demand. Such issues cannot be taken lightly. However, we often fail to appreciate the fact that the situation of the Gir lion is different.
Firstly, the much-talked about epidemic has never struck during known history. In fact, lion population is on the rise. There are 359 lions according to the 2005 census compared to 327 in 2001. The survival ratio, death rate and life span of the Asiatic lion is normal, rendering it a healthy and growing population.
Secondly, all the lions in Gir are not in one contiguous landscape or habitat. There are at least four isolated populations at Girnar, Mitiyala, Palitana and the coastal areas of Kodinar. About a third of the total population is outside Gir. This clearly indicates that through a natural process of dispersion, the Asiatic lion is regaining its lost territories on its own. We need to facilitate and support this natural process.
populations. Helping such natural expansion of the lion habitat is likely to give successful results rather than complete artificial translocation to a distant place - an approach which has already witnessed failure whenever attempted in the past. There have been two such attempts in the past with 100 per cent failure. The wisdom lies in learning from the failures and not ignoring them.
The two unsuccessful attempts were made in the past.
Master poacher an old hand
Ahmedabad: He is 50, no more than five-and-a-half-feet tall and slightly built. A pushover, you say?
Think again, he is the dreaded lion poacher of Gir sanctuary Sarkashlal Singh, a native of Baijan village in Hosangabad district in Madhya Pradesh. CID officials have branded him the 'national mastermind' of the two poaching incidents in Gir and one at
Sarkashlal was arrested for lion poaching by the CID (Crime) sleuths on April 25, just days prior to gala celebrations that the government has planned at Junagadh for
"The master poacher, who is linked to the tiger poaching racket in Madhya Pradesh, had single-handedly coordinated the poaching of lions in Gir. He was connected to the infamous Sansarchand gang of MP's Sariska tiger reserve but was never arrested. Only his name figured during investigations," said a senior Junagadh police official.
And the poacher seems to know his job well, having dodged arrest for more than two decades now. Sarkashlal had not only got eight lions poached within the protected supposedly secure Gir sanctuary, he also got the lions' bones and flesh smuggled out of the sanctuary without the forest officials even raising an eyebrow.
Interestingly though, Sarkashlal has told the police that he was rarely present when poaching took place. "The lion was caught in metal traps and then bludgeoned and stabbed to death by tribal gangs. The dead cats would be skinned and boned by the tribals and only then would Sarkashlal step in. He took over from there and injected the lion claws, flesh and bones into the international market. In destinations like
However, it is still not clear how Sarkashlal smuggled the bones and flesh of the lions, each weighing no less 150 kg.
For the killing, Sarkashlal hired tribals from Katni and Panna in MP who are experts in tiger poaching. He stationed them in
"Sarkashlal commands fear and respect among the tribals who refused to divulge anything about the racket or the modus operandi for long. Close to 70 tribals from MP have been rounded up but they are such hardened criminals and fearful of Sarkashlal that a lot of grilling and forensic examination was required to corroborate facts," said CID officials.
Sarkashlal Singh being produced in Una court