Sunday, November 07, 2010

Steering clear: No shortcuts through lion country, please

Steering clear: No shortcuts through lion country, please
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

The last place one would expect to be used as a shortcut is the Gir sanctuary, the only home in the world of the Asiatic lion. It would make more sense to burn a little fuel and skirt a protected forest than cut across it.

But the Gujarat government, which refuses to share a single lion with any other state, does not mind a busy highway running through Gir. The distance between Visavadar to Talala towns in Junagadh is 130 km if you take the highway outside Gir. But why take this stretch when you can drive through Gir and save 52 km?

Let alone villagers, even heavy vehicles traverse on some of these stretches, making large, rattling noises and leaving behind clouds of exhaust.

In fact, there has been an increase in the inflow of uncontrolled visitors in the protected habitat in the last couple of years. The sanctuary is spread over nearly 1,500 sq km and houses 298 lions according to the last census. In all, there are 411 lions in Gir and surrounding areas.

The sanctuary has turned into a virtual thoroughfare connecting Junagadh and Amreli. Not just the Visavadar-Dhari stretch, there are some ten roads passing through different parts of the sanctuary. At least 600 vehicles pass through the Una-Talala and Dhari-Una stretches in Gir everyday. The traffic is nonstop even at night.

The shrines and temples located in the sanctuary add to the lions' troubles. The Kankai Mata temple, Banej, Pataleshwar Mahadev and Tulsishyam are some of the religious spots in the sanctuary which are thronged by pilgrims daily. People even spend their nights in the sanctuary on select religious festivals.

Forest officials say the ban on night stay within the sanctuary was lifted after pilgrims threw a major tantrum. People living in these shrines move about in the sanctuary unchecked.

Former principal conservator of forests and member of the National Wildlife Board GA Patel says, "Sariska has a busy highway passing through the sanctuary which may have played a major role in the poaching of tigers. We too have several roads passing through the Gir sanctuary. There is no political will to curb the traffic. We are fighting a losing battle. Something should be done to save the big cats. There is a need for some drastic measures."

The Dhari-Una stretch operates round the clock, while the rest are closed after sunset. Even luxury buses and trucks use it at night.

HIGHWAYS THAT PASS THROUGH GIR Visavadar-Sasan Jamwada-Kankai Jamwada-Banej Una-Talala Jamwada-Dhari Babariya-Banej-Patra Junagadh-Talala Haripur-Hirenwel Una-Talala Dhari-Una via Tulsishyam

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