Lion census: Gujarat's pride crosses 400
There is good news for the country: the Asiatic lion population has increased. Chief Minister Narendra Modi announced this in Gandhinagar on Sunday. Compared to the last count in 2005, there has been an increase of 52, taking the total to 411 this year.
What's more: lions can now be found outside the Gir National Park and Sanctuary area, in the four districts of Amreli, Bhavnagar, Porbandar and Junagadh. This is what is now called the Bruhud (greater) Gir region. The Census has also found 77 cubs in the Gir National Park and Sanctuary, 46 sub-adult lions (23 males and as many females), 29 unidentified lions, 162 adult females and 97 adult males. Moreover, there has been a 40 per cent increase in the sub-adult population. The lioness and cub ratio is 1:2, which has always been the other way round, said Forest officials.
Savarkundla, Liliya and the adjoining areas of Amreli and Bhavnagar districts have 43 lions between them; the coastal areas of Una, Kodinar, Sutrapada and Chhara have 21 big cats. Altogether, there are 76 lions—21 females and 26 males—in the greater Gir region.
Modi said: "The lion population has increased due to public participation. In1968, there were only 177 big cats. The Census methodology followed by the forest staff should be institutionalized, as it had a scientific approach. This can help Forest departments in other states as well. After several poaching cases were recorded, certain initiatives were taken to safeguard the lions such as raising the walls of the wells. Last year, only one cub died after it fell into a well.
Prior to this, over 10 cubs died annually after falling into wells. The male-female ratio this time is 1:1.67. The average growth of the lion population has increased to 13 per cent, which is much higher than the previous average of five to 10 per cent."
R V Asari, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Wildlife, said: "It is good that the rate of survival of females, sub-adults and cubs is higher than before. The lions were found healthier in the census.
The population is quite stable in the Bhavnagar grasslands, while there has been an increase of the big cats in Rajula and Jaffrabad. Apart from the 270 lions sighted in Junagadh, 108 were seen in Amreli."
He added "We have tried to be as precise as possible using Global Information System (GIS) maps for each of the beats that were divided between the volunteers. The GIS maps were prepared nine months ago and showed volunteers the water points, the wells and the geography of the area. Each volunteer was taught the methods to identify lions in the sanctuary."
Junagadh was the place were royals used to hunt the big cats. It was the Nawab of Junagadh who had first imposed a ban on lion killing in his state during the British Raj. In the 1960s, the Gir forest, the last abode of the Asiatic lion, was converted into a National Park and Sanctuary. "In 1936, the Nawab of Junagadh had conducted a census, and counted lions through their pugmarks. The population estimate during that time touched 200, but it dwindled in the late 60s," Asari said, adding, "It is after three decades that the lion population has shown positive growth."
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