Monday, March 08, 2010

A royal secret to the jungle king’s long life

A royal secret to the jungle king's long life

Times of India By Himanshu kaushik

Efforts to conserve the lion in Gujarat started way back in 1913 with the nawab of Junagadh

If Delhi is citing Gujarat's conservation efforts for lions as a model today before the Supreme Court, it owes itself largely to a royal legacy. Lions were once spread across Gujarat, but it was largely due to the conservation efforts of the state that saved these lions and saw their numbers rise to around 400 from 20 over 90-odd years.

Union minister for environment and forest Jairam Ramesh recently offered to swap tigers for lions to be relocated to Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh.

The next census which is due in April is expected to see the figure jump to over 400. In fact forest officials say that the increase in numbers did not happen overnight. The first conservation efforts were taken up in the first decade of the 19th century by the nawab of Junagadh and involved local villagers.

Mohammad Mahabat Khanji III the nawab of Junagadh began conservation efforts after he found that the lion population in Gujarat had fallen below 20 and began by imposing a ban on their killing, which continues till date.

So, while all the projects to save tigers from poachers have failed, the lion population has been steadily rising.

Besides, to accommodate the burgeoning population of lions, the state government is developing new sanctuaries which includes the Barda Dungar in Porbandar. Apart from Gir, the government has also declared three more areas as sanctuaries, which total an area of 235 sq km. Barda, covering 190 sq km is ready for the lions.

After the poaching incident of 2007, the government took up protection of the Asiatic lion seriously and allocated funds for buying vehicles, modern equipment and staff. Consequently, lions which were only found in Sasan, are now found all along the coastal areas of Saurashtra, Palitana, Mahuva and Porbandar.

Principal Secretary Forest SK Nanda says, "Local people from all the 148 villages welcome the animal and take pride in the presence of the lion in their area". People of Saurashtra are hardly hostile to the lion even though it kills their livestock. "If a lion makes the field its home for a fortnight, the farmer in Saurashtra would stay away from his field not because of fear but he would not like to disturb the majestic lion. Hardly any incidents of poisoning or killing of the big cat has been reported from the area", says a forest officer. "There is an environment of conservation in and around Sasan and more important is that the people inform the forest department about the movement of lions, the injury of the lions and even about any suspicious activity.

Former principal conservator of forest GA Patel says, "Lions were found upto Haryana and till the borders of Bihar, but the population began falling as in the present case of the tigers, no one bothered to take care and it was the people of Gujarat who took up the challenged and launched various conservation methods to save the lion."

Apart from the various conservation steps taken by the forest department, the people of Gujarat are also sensitive to the lions. The villagers would sacrifice their cattle for the lion. The people take pride in the presence of the lion in their village. The people of Gujarat are very sensitive and after the poaching incident, they now act as the policemen.

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