Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bait may get Gir lions diseases


Bait may get Gir lions diseases

Times Of India By Himanshu Kaushik

Ahmedabad: Asiatic lions may have been known to feed on sambars and cheetals, which are fast moving animals, but lately some of them, in their last abode in Gir, seem to have been tamed to eat buffalo meat offered on a platter.

The lion shows, organized to provide a feast to tourists during their visit to Gir, are not just spoiling the lions but also putting them under the threat of various diseases contracted from the cattle offered as bait, say experts from Wildlife Institute of India (WII).

Experts say cattle can transfer bovine tuberculosis, which had once gripped the African lions at the Kruger National Park in South Africa, to lions in Gir also. Besides, they could also contract canine distemper, which had killed 800 of the 2,000-odd African lions within four months at Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

The modus operandi of staging a lion show is to tie a non-productive cattle to a tree and let tourists watch lions prey on them on payment of a premium.

Farmers, who gave their livestock as bait, also claim compensation from the government. The danger of these shows is that the cattle offered as bait are not checked for diseases.

Moreover, these shows domesticate the lions. That the lions are getting used to eating buffalo meat is established from the fact that in 2007-08, 2,018 claims for compensation were made for cattle killed by lions against 1,464 in 2006-07.

Dr PK Malik, head (wildlife health management) WII, says: “The bait is hardly checked in these situations, definitely some diseases can be transferred from bovine to carnivores.”

Chief conservator of forest (research) Dr HS Singh says: “Although no such major outbreak has been reported from Gir, these activities could threaten the Asiatic lion.”

The basic instinct of the lion to hunt will be affected by such shows, added Dr Singh.

He says that the lions should be allowed to starve so that they become more active and hunt for food. RG Jani, associate professor, Anand Veterinary College, agrees with the view that lions should be allowed to hunt. Unchecked baits can harm the animal, he added.

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