Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mystery death of lion solved: eyewitness tracked

Mystery death of lion solved: eyewitness tracked
Indian Express By Vikram Rautela

Headlights of speeding vehicle startled big cat; beast lost balance on parapet, plunged to its death The death of an adult Asiatic lion, whose body was found under a bridge near Bhelchhar village in the Sasan range of Gir forest earlier last week, is no longer a mystery.

Officers from the Forest Department, who are investigating the case, have finally tracked the eyewitness who had seen the big cat jump off the 25m high bridge around 11.15 pm last Tuesday.

The witness, whose identity is being withheld, is an outsider, and had come to Gir on a tour. He was tracked with the help of an entry – mentioning his name, address and car registration number – logged on the toll plaza register near the bridge.

In his statement to the investigating team headed by Deputy Forest Conservator (Gir west), Amit Kumar, the witness said that the headlights of a speeding car heading towards the Sasan side on the 20 m long bridge had startled the animal, which was walking towards the opposite (Junagadh) side that night. Feeling threatened, the lion jumped atop a narrow, metre-high parapet on the left side of the bridge, but failed to keep its balance and plunged down.

"The lion banged its head on a rock near the riverbed and walked for about four metres under the bridge, before collapsing under its right side," an officer of the rescue team that had reached the site around 12:15 midnight, said.

The deposition of the witness was discussed at a high-level meeting called by senior Forest Department officers on Saturday, following which the department decided to set a 30 km/hr speed limit for all vehicles plying between Talala and Mendrada, in the range.

Principal Secretary, Forests and Environment Department, said: "Sighting of Asiatic lions is a very common thing on this 25-km-long stretch and the limit restrictions have been imposed to avert accidents like the one that happened on Tuesday night. All vehicles plying on this stretch will have to maintain the permitted speed limit and anyone found violating this will be detained and penalised."

Meanwhile, officers investigating the case said a total of four vehicles had crossed the bridge around that time. "We have tracked the other three vehicles and will soon find out which one of them is indirectly responsible for this unnatural death," he added.

According to the postmortem report, the lion was possibly aged around seven and died of haemorrhage to the head and chest.

In recent times, Sasan and the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary have been attracting more tourists, which have led to an increase in traffic on the state highway and the internal roads.

"Tourist vehicles often ply at high speeds. Besides, the number of two and four wheelers is also constantly going up in the rural areas surrounding the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary," said a senior forest officer.

Following the poaching of nine lions in 2006, the Jamwada-Kankai, Jamwada-Banej, Junagadh Talala, Haripur-Hirenwel, Jasadhar Timberwa and Dhari-Una roads have been closed to traffic after sunset. The state highways like Junagadh-Sasan and Sasan-Bhal, however, remain open for 24 hours

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