Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Amreli is Junagadh's rival as host of lions in Gujarat

Amreli is Junagadh's rival as host of lions in Gujarat
DNA By Jumana Shah

Gujarat's Junagadh district seems to getting tough competition from Amreli, a neighbouring district, as a host of the coveted Asiatic lions. As many as 108 lions have been sighted in Amreli which is second only to Junagadh where 270 have been recorded. Incidentally, the Gir National Park and Sanctuary is located in Junagadh.

While Bhavnagar's grasslands are emerging as a favourite of the
king of the jungle, not a single lion has been recorded in Porbandar district.

The latest census has reported the existence of 77 cubs less than one year old, and 75 cubs aged less than three. "40% of the lion population is 'youth', similar to India's human population," Modi quipped as he announced the census results on Sunday.

Census method Modi said the world should notice the scientific approach used in the lion census by Gujarat this time. "Institutes should conduct a scientific study of this method and get it replicated in other wildlife censuses too," he added.

He said that, earlier, the census was carried out in a rather arbitrary manner, seeking input from passers-by about lion sightings and estimating their population on the basis of attacks made on other animals. But this time, the method used was technologically very robust.

According to the information given by the department, the special features of the latest census were the use of GIS, GPS and wireless technologies for effective coordination. Proper documentation was done for each observation. Through
direct sighting, the animals were identified by distinct body-marks.

Each team involved in the census was to record these body-marks, and other details such as time of the sighting, to and fro directional movement, etc, on a form prepared by the forest department. Digital pictures were also taken for the records.

Summer is the best time to conduct this exercise as the number of water resources gets restricted. Lions and other wild animals need to drink at least once in 24 hours. This makes it comparatively easy to decide the places in the jungle where the animals could collect. The available water sources and probable places where the lions could visit were surveyed during the forest department's nine-month-long pre-census exercise.

"Long ranging animals like lions are not confined to man-made ecological boundaries. Keeping this in mind, a beat was decided as the smallest geographical unit inside the Gir protected area and a village was taken as the smallest unit outside Gir," chief wildlife warden RV Asari said.

The exercise to record the numbers and movement of the lions had begun nine months back. Based on the observations made during this period, 641 probable sites were identified where the chances of finding the lions were the highest. Also, data of the hunts of the last 10 years were analysed. Gir and the adjoining areas were divided into seven regions, 28 zones, and 100 sub-zones for the census.

At the last count, 135 officers, 450 enumerators, 900 assistants, 134 volunteers, 49 photographers, 13 doctors and 12 researchers were part of the census team.

Conservation bears fruit

Modi claimed that effective conservation methods adopted by the state forest department had resulted in the significant rise in lion population. "After the unfortunate incident (poaching cases of 2007), we recruited 400 new people, trained them for better guarding of the forest, brought in motorcycles and all kinds of new technology. The results can be seen in the census data this time," Modi said. Gujarat is very proud of its heritage and population of all wildlife has increased in the last thirty years, he added.

For Kathiawar, lions are family

Last but not the least is the people's participation that was given credit for the spectacular increase in the population. "We got the maximum of people's participation in the census process this time. Lots and lots of volunteers had joined the exercise," the forest department stated.

Be that as it may, the main functionaries in lion conservation are the residents of the surrounding villages, who do not flinch when a lion kills their livestock. How possessive the villagers are about the lions is evident from this incident of 2007.

Soon after the poaching incidents in 2007, the forest department was seeking help from the villagers for better protection of the lions. The villagers said they would help the department only if it promised that it would not take away any of the lions (meaning, the relocation proposal of the central government).

"'You do not worry about the lions preying on our livestock, that is our internal issue. The lions are part of our family; we can deal with them. But don't take them away,' the villagers told me. I was totally impressed by their humane legacy," Modi said.

Other wildlife in Gir sanctuary

Much as the king of the jungle gets the lion's share of attention, one should not overlook the other wildlife which keep the ecosystem robust. Principal secretary, department of environment and forests, Gujarat, SK Nanda said all volunteers had reported sighting large numbers of sambars, retells and porcupines. "The population of Sambar is estimated to be around 48,000, there are 250 leopards in the Gir forests and 1,070 all over Gujarat," he said.

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