Friday, June 29, 2007

Pilgrims posing threat to Gir wildlife


Pilgrims posing threat to Gir wildlife

Times of India Print Edition

Gandhinagar: A senior Gujarat forest department official has said that temples at Kankai and Tulsishyam—on the border of the Gir National Park and inside the Gir sanctuary area respectively — have become a major cause of pressure on the Asiatic lion and other wild animals in the protected area.

In his latest book, ‘The Gir Lion’, Dr H S Singh, chief conservator of forests, Gujarat government, has said, “The heavy influx of pilgrims and vehicles, particularly dieseldriven vehicles, is becoming a growing threat to the protected area in Gir.” Released by Chief Minister Narendra Modi recently, the book also seeks to blame ‘increasing transport business on the roads’ for this.

In Singh’s estimate, the number of vehicles that pass through the Gir, including those that reach these temples, has doubled in a decade. The Jasadhar checkpoint annually reports above 40,100 vehicles annually. The vehicles at the Tibmerva checkpoint reported are more than 37,700. On two seasonal roads – Chhodvadi-Kankai and Chhodvadi-Banej – annually 3,700 and 2,700 pass by respectively.

On the Sasan-Kankai road, which was opened in 1997 ‘due to public demand and political pressure’, 34,000 vehicles pass by every year. The author warns, “Except one, all public roads in Gir are seasonal and the public pressure to convert them into all weather roads is tremendous. Being one of the greatest threats to Gir, it remains an important issue of management.”

The author believes they are not just the roads that interfere with wildlife. He says, “Excessive anthropogenic interference in the wilderness can change the behaviour of the wild animals. There is minimal cutting and lopping pressure on the forest near Kankai. But the grazing pressure is high due to the presence of a large number of cows belonging to the temple.”

He adds, “These cattle have the potential to transmit diseases to the wild animals as well. As Kankai temple is situated near the National Park boundary, the presence of cattle and their interference in the park is a major threat for wild animals.” He finds a similar problem near Tulsishyam temple.

The author says, “The distribution of non-biodegradable substances around Kankai temple and in the river system by the pilgrims is a major source of pollution in the area. There is a danger of wild animals swallowing polythene, which may lead to their death. Along with the river system, toxic substances get transported to a large area inside the forest and this can be deleterious to wildlife.”


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