Sunday, April 18, 2010

1300 volunteers and experts to spot the lion king

1300 volunteers and experts to spot the lion king
DNA By Jumana Shah

Giri has a scar on her tail, she is not very ferocious but protective about her thee cubs. Spotted at waterhole in Beat no285; 1400 hrs; 25/04/10

Bhuro's mane has a dark golden fringe, brown scar on torso, hunting for a shade; in Mahuva, Bhavnagar Reads what could be a typical GPS posting to be used by Gujarat foresters for enumerating the lions next weekend. The suspense of five years will be resolved in 72 hours by a team of 1,300 volunteers with senior state foresters and cat experts of the country. The increase in the Asiatic Lions' population residing in Gir jungles of Saurashtra will be known when the state of Gujarat turns 50 on May 1.

Spotting the lion king was never easy, but the foresters are hoping technology will come to their aid this time. This is the first time that the lion census is being conducted on such a massive scale over a large area and much more scientifically than the previous years. Even as the mercury peaks, the census will be carried out with labourers, forest staff and volunteers spread over 300 beats carved out of 5,000 sq km area, called the Greater Gir. Seven regions have been identified; divided into zones, then subzones and then beats.

This is also the first time that the 'Greater Gir' area is to be covered for the census in four districts — Amreli, Junagadh, Bhavnagar and parts of Porbandar. Earlier it was restricted to the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, spread over 1,412 sq km area. The inclusion of this area is a restrained admission by the establishment that the lion habitat has now expanded much beyond the sanctuary area. The majestic beast is now steadily reclaiming its traditional corridor all the way from Porbandar to Bhavnagar. The last census process in 2005, which stated the lion population to be 359 in Gir Sanctuary, was carried out through pug marks.

This time, the methodology of 'direct sighting' will be used, through which specific body marks will be identified and uploaded on the GPS device carried by each team. This data will be available to all other teams simultaneously. "It will reduce redundancies to a great extent, bit not completely," says principal chief conservator of forests Pradip Khanna.

Ironically, it might be relatively easier to enumerate the lion king in the heat as they are most likely to hover close to water holes. Refuting the use of any artificial methods, state's wildlife warden RV Asari said only natural resources will be used. "The lions are generally spotted in a pride. The identification will be a body mark, not a number. The locals give names to the animal for ease of use, but officially we do not name or number them," Asari said.

The volunteers are being trained for almost two months now.

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