Lions hold their ground in Gir forests
DNA By Jumana Shah
Going against the global trend of depleting numbers of big cats in the wild, the population of Asiatic Lions in the Gir forests of Saurashtra has increased by 14.5% in the past five years.
The 13th Asiatic Lions population estimate has revealed that the total population of the big cats is 411 in the Greater Gir region (including 1,300 sq km of protected forest) which is spread over nearly 5,000 sq km in four districts.
The 2005 census had pegged the population at 359, but with an increase of 52 animals in the next five years. But, the Asiatic lion population in Gir now stands at 411.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, who made this announcement on Sunday as part of the Swarnim Gujarat celebrations in the state capital, said the good health of the lion population in Gir proves that it is the best example of successful wildlife conservation in the country, and perhaps, the world.
"Their numbers have almost doubled since 1979," the chief minister said. "The increase in lion population between 2001 and 2005 was 5-7%. But in the last five years, despite some unfortunate incidents [eight deaths due to poaching], the lion population has increased by over 13%, which is the highest ever rise." He added that this is "a gift to the globe".
The maximum number of lions —297— were sighted in the Gir National Park, sanctuary and adjoining areas.
The second highest sightings (53) were in Savarkundla, Liliya and adjoining areas of Amreli and Bhavnagar districts.
This indicates that lions have now found a new home here and seem to be favouring the grasslands of Bhavnagar. Girnar Sanctuary recorded 25 animals and, interestingly, lions have ventured as far as the coastal areas of Kodinar, Una, Sutrapada and Chhara, which recorded 21 lions.
Unlike in the human world, female dominance seems to be increasing in the jungle. The male-female ratio has been estimated at a healthy 1:1.67.
As many as 162 lionesses and 97 males were seen. "Lionesses dominate the jungle. We hope human society will learn from lions here," Modi chuckled, indicating the global concern over the declining numbers of the girl child.
Conceding that the lions migrated out of the forest to surrounding areas, the chief minister said they have found small habitats among human habitation and both humans and lions seem to be content with a life of co-existence.
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