Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gir patrol staff to be equipped with GPS units

Gir patrol staff to be equipped with GPS units
Indian Express By Shubhlakshmi Shukla

Project will be in three phases starting 2010; will help forest department maintain cartographic data on lion population

Five hundred field staff manning the Sasan Gir Forest will now have to be on their toes as senior officers of the Forest Department will be monitoring their on-field movements.

This comes after the state Ministry of Forest and Environment finalised the Rs 20 crore project of equipping the field staff with the Global Positioning System (GPS) Hand Held Units (HHU).

With this, the Forest Department will now be equipped to monitor the Asiatic lions on a daily basis by the end of 2010. This will fill up several gaps in the management, they say.

The project is the outcome of recommendations by the task force formed by MOEF on May 25, 2007 following a series of reports of poaching of Asiatic lions.

This system with a Geographical Information System (GIS) control room at the Junagadh forest office will provide a daily account of the surveillance activity and the dispersal of the big cats in the two divisions of Sasan Gir.

Any senior officer at the headquarters will be able to keep daily tabs on the Asiatic lions and the surveillance staff with the help of maps — updated daily through the GIS system. Forest officers will know about the the location of the surveillance staff in the forest areas, as also which portion of the lion habitat has been patrolled or skipped in a month or in a week.

The system will also help keep tabs on areas where man and animal conflict has increased or decreased.

Senior officers at Gir said the entire lion habitat could be visualised through this system.

Pradeep Khanna, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Administration, said: "The tender for HHUs will be issued shortly. At present, 500 field staff will be equipped with these. Each of the HHUs will have specifications on the location of a kill and the reason behind the lion deaths (trauma or accidents). The project will be in three phases, beginning 2010. The state Forest Department intends to extend it to nearly 1,000 field staff."

He said: "The Bangalore-based soft ware firm CMC institute will work on the project," adding that the government has given the go ahead.

A senior forest officer said: "Nearly 20 per cent of the total population of Asiatic lions will be radio-collared so that their daily dispersal pattern can be properly assessed. At present, the monitoring of animal movement is limited to few research studies and projects."

He said the day-to-day sightings are recorded and reported in forms, reports and registers, but the compilation and collation of such voluminous data for the entire lion population or even of the Gir Protected Area Network is manually not feasible on a daily or weekly basis.

"A longer time period will render the data obsolete. It is impossible to maintain a cartographic record of such data over a few years to generate long-term time-series and use it for trend-forecasting. But with the GIS in place, the forest officers will have ready data of the dispersal pattern of Asiatic lions," he added.

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