Monday, October 05, 2009

Gir officials 'corner' lions for President's visit

Gir officials 'corner' lions for President's visit
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

The authorities of Gir sanctuary are bending rules a bit to ensure an eye-to-eye encounter for President Pratibha Patil with the king of the jungle at the only abode of the Asiatic lions.

Though the sanctuary opens to visitors only on October 15, the President will be allowed inside on Friday on her maiden official visit to Gujarat. Forest officials are working overtime to watch the lions' movements, especially around the Kamleshwar dam in Gir forest. Two groups of lions were recently spotted in this area.

Patil will not only spend two-and-a-half hours in the jungle on Friday but also stay at the official forest lodge, Sinh Sadan, in the night. Sanctuary officials said foresters have tracked two groups of lions on the route the President would be taking. These are open areas where spotting is possible. The officials believe there would be at least nine lions within sight that day. They are also watching a smaller group of five. To make sure the President doesn't leave without spotting the lion, officials are trying to confine this group to a place by ensuring a prey base or arranging for a live bait.

Junagadh collector Ashwini Kumar said the President would be riding in her bullet proof car. Forest department officials, however, said she would have to switch to another vehicle because of the jungle terrain.

Not all VVIP visitors have been fortunate here. Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, once returned without any success. He had to go back without seeing the lion as his security staff refused to allow him to get down from his vehicle because the area where the lion was spotted was not sanitised by them.

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