Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Not M-P, Gir lions are going to China

Not M-P, Gir lions are going to China
DNA By Jumana Shah & Roxy Gagdekar

Chief minister Narendra Modi may have refused to part with any of the Gir lions for a sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, but the Asiatic lions are still at risk of ending up in China — dead.

The success of the state government in nabbing the poachers who, in 2007, killed eight lions in Gir has lulled many into believing that Gujarat's Asiatic lions are now safe. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

The fact of the matter is that the existence of lions everywhere is constantly threatened by poachers. Wildlife experts say that the main reason why lions are prized by poachers is the high demand for lion bones in the international market.

"The purported medicinal value of lion bones fetches high prices for them in the international market," Samir Sinha, head of TRAFFIC India, told DNA on Monday, at the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Gandhinagar. TRAFFIC India, a division of WWF India, does research and analysis and provides support to efforts to curb wildlife trade in India. China is believed to be the main market for lion bones but Sinha categorically said that there are several other countries among the "consumers".

"Chain investigation of poacher gangs is not taking place," he said. "We should try to get to the people who control the whole market. But all that we have done is crack the network of gangs operating within the country." Sinha said that the exact value of the lion's body parts is not completely clear yet. "But there is certainly a perception that its bones have medicinal value," he said. "There does not seem to be much demand for the other body parts, except for the knuckles. But we are exploring further. The important thing is that there is value to lions, be it in India or Africa, and they continue to be hunted by poachers."

Sinha further said that the nature of wildlife crime is always changing. "Earlier, it was perceived to be random but we now know that it is organized. Hence to deal with it, we too need an organised system," he said. A five-day course in 'Wildlife Crime Management' is being held at the Directorate of Forensic Science (DFS), Gandhinagar. The training programme for forest officers of the country has been organised by the Tiger Conservation Society of India, Wildlife Institute of India-Dehradun, TRAFFIC-India and the DFS. Many forest conservators from Gujarat are also participating in the programme.

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