Watch lions feast in Gir, for a price
SASAN: The setting sun has painted the sky a bright red. But, for a group of wide-eyed tourists, it's a different red that's attracting their attention. A bloodied buffalo is being torn apart by two lions while two cubs join in.
This is right in the middle of the lion country, just 25 km from Sasan, the core of Gir lion sanctuary that is the last refuge of the endangered Asiatic lions. At Babra Virdi, around 8 pm, the feast was on. So was the show as tourists, including some foreigners, watched in wonder.
The show is managed by locals by luring the lions with a live bait and costs anywhere between Rs 2,500 and Rs 10,000 for a group of five close to the core area. This is not an isolated incident. Lion shows are a rage in Gir, with several touts organising these shows in and around the forest. They are usually drivers of tourist vehicles who are hand-in-glove with forest department staff. These touts even have business cards and offer you a package which includes a meal while the lion is having a banquet.
Since the lion has strayed far beyond the protected sanctuary and national park, shows are organised even in villages on the outskirts of the sanctuary. "These shows violate security for the lions and will only help guide poachers at a time when poaching turning out to be a big menace," says Revtubhai Jadeja, former member of Wildlife Board. "We are looking for people who organise such shows," says conservator of forest (Junagadh range) Bharat Pathak.
What's on show?
Venue: Sasan, core area of Gir
Tourists who do not sight lions during a tour of Gir are the targets of well organised groups. They promise sure shot viewing at close quarters. They help you take your car up to a pride of lions. While the car is stopped barely 10 feet from the lions, visitors are told not to take pictures as it would annoy the lion.
Venue: Dhari, near the core area
A buffalo or cow is let loose on the top of a hillock, with a long rope tied around its neck. The other end is tied to a tractor, which waits at a distance down the hillock. Around 7 pm, when lions approach the bait, the tractor pulls the bait down the hill with the lion in pursuit. The rope is cut off, leaving it to the mercy of the lion. The lion feeds on the cattle as the tourists watch.