Saturday, March 22, 2008

Open wells in Gir may no longer ring in death for lions


Open wells in Gir may no longer ring in death for lions

Indian Express

Rajkot, March 18 Instances of lions falling into open wells and dying in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary may soon become a thing of the past. The sanctuary, considered the last abode of the Asiatic lions, has recorded 51 such accidents from 2001 to January 2008, in which 25 lions have died.

Following an initiative by the Rajkot-based Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), the work to barricade open wells is on in full swing. After signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the state government, the WCT began the work in Gir East in September last year. The barricading of 781 wells is expected to be completed by March 31.

“Asiatic lions, with a population of 359 as per the last census in 2005, face threats from humans, conflicts with other wild animals, poaching and genetic limitations. But manmade open wells are the most severe threat that they and other wild animals face in the region,” said Kishore Kotecha, WCT chairman.

As per the MoU, the government has given a grant of Rs 4,000 for each well, while barricading one well costs around Rs 10,000. So far, the trust has erected barricades around 781 wells with support of donors (for 108 wells), WWF India (77), Vanishing Herds Foundation (269) and Tata Chemicals (300).

The trust is also set to barricade another 1,000 wells in the coming 12 months in association with Tata Chemicals. Two other corporate houses— Reliance Industries Limited and Ambuja— are also carrying out the work to cover around 2,000 wells. In the next couple of months, 3,500-odd wells are likely to be covered to save the lion causalities. The NGO has called for more corporate houses to pitch in, as there are nearly 9,000 wells within 5-km vicinity of the sanctuary spread over 1,412 sq kms. “We will get donor’s name permanently embossed on the RCC slabs,” he said.

The wells, as deep as 100 feet sans boundary walls, have been dug up by farmers as a source of water for irrigation and livestock. But it has become graves for wild animals, especially lions. Kotecha said, “Threats like poaching and genetic limitations are relatively tough to check. But open wells that have become the most fatal, is something that can be controlled.”

Barricading wells using conventional limestone method is a mammoth task with a huge cost. So, the WCT developed a design that reduced the cost to almost 1/4th as well as time. So far, 10 villages have been included in the projects— Kotda, Paniya, Chanchai, Dalkhania, Krangsa, Sukhpar, Matanmala, Sodhapar, Ambagala and Ravana.

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