Lion King gets cosy, friendly
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik
Man-Lion Have Learnt To Co-Exist In Perfect Harmony Around Gir
Sasan Gir: He is the master of all he surveys. It is not without reason that he is called the king of the jungle. But in Gir and around, the king is stepping out of the forest and feeling at home quite close to human habitations. Anywhere else, this would have been seen as an intrusion. But here, either side doesn't mind.
Foresters are noticing distinct behavioural changes in the lions in Gir as almost half the 350-plus population has strayed out of the national park and sanctuary, co-existing in perfect harmony with humans.
Last week, when a lion strolled through a busy market in a village near Dhari, it did create a scare. But, humans have now got used to these close encounters even in places a couple of hundred kilometres from Gir.
In recent years, lions have had to be captured from airports in Diu and Porbander. Tourists were surprised recently at the information centre near Devalia when a pride of lions, including two cubs, carried on with their playful activity, unmindful of the moving traffic.
A senior forest official posted in Gir says, "The people of Gir actually feel safe when lions are around. In villages near Talala, farmers go home and sleep if there are lions around because then they need not stay on guard to protect their crops from marauding wild boars and neelgais." Forest records show that since the 70s and 80s, when almost a dozen cases of lion attacking humans were reported every year, some of them being fatal, these type of cases have come down to just one or two now. "Both lions and humans have learnt to accept each other and not over-react," says a forest official.
Revtubha Raijada, who stays near Dhari, says lions stray closer to humans when they are sick and weak. Raijada says villagers often call in veterinary doctors if they spot a suffering lion. "I really don't remember the last time when any lion attacked a villager," he said.
"Lions have become emboldened. Today, they do not hesitate to even kill a buffalo within the heart of a village," says Sanat Chavan, former chief conservator of forest. He says people don't mind losing their cattle because they are immediately compensated.
Well-known expert on lion behaviour, Dr Ravi Chellam, says "Lions are capable of adapting to big changes in their habitat. This is not true of tigers."