Friday, April 11, 2008

While Khilawad villagers react to presence of lions, foresters look at its benefits


While Khilawad villagers react to presence of lions, foresters look at its benefits

Express India By Sibte Hussain Bukhari

Junagadh, April 10 Khilawad village in Una taluka seems to be turning into a new den for a group of about half a dozen lions. For a fortnight now, these big cats have made their home on the outskirts of the village and preyed on 12-odd cattleheads.

Although villagers are habitual to the presence of lions in the revenue area, but their continuous presence has made things difficult for farmers and labourers working in the agriculture fields. According to villagers, lions have killed nine cows within a week in the area.

The villagers had approached forest officials and the local MLA, and sought appropriate action in this regard. In turn, a forest officer from Jashadhar Forest range (Gir east forest division) had convened a village meet, wherein villagers demanded that the forest staff intensify round-the-clock patrolling to avert any serious incidents of human-animal conflict. They had also demanded that the Forest department should not delay in paying compensation for the killing of domestic animals by lions.

Reacting to this, deputy conservator of forest (Gir east) J S Solanki said: "In the last one year from April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008, a total 1,188 incidents of killing of domestic animals by lions were reported in the Gir east forest division alone. And the Forest department paid a sum of Rs 35.14 lakh as compensation in one year."

Interestingly, while the villagers are living under a constant fear, Solanki said the presence of big cats has in a few ways been beneficial also. Stating that lions were in "no way harmful" for the villagers, he said that the region had to face the constant menace of herbivores like the blue bull and wild boars, and lions helped in keeping a check on them.

"In a number of villages surrounding the Gir forest, herbivores damage crops and cause other problems for farmers. Sometimes, villagers come to us and demand that we make arrangement for a group of lions in their area so that they could get rid of the menace of herbivores," he said.

On the frequent visit of lions in the area, foresters opined that earlier a group of five lions was settled in an area falling in Jashadhar forest range. With time, their population increased and now they ventured into the revenue area.

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