Gujarat wildlife policy a roaring success
The Pioneer By Rathin Das
It's official. Gujarat is animal-friendly. While the number of any particular animal might have grown in some State or other, Gujarat is probably the only State where the population of as many as four big wild animals have gone up.
While the rise in population of the Asiatic lion in Gir, its last natural habitat, is well-known, the numbers of three other big animals, too, have grown in Gujarat during the past few years.
Apart from the Asiatic lions in Gir, the big wild animals whose populations in Gujarat have grown are leopards, wild ass and sloth bear.
The increase of Asiatic lions in Gir to 411 in 2010 from 359 in 2005 was well publicised, but around the same time, the State's leopard count, too, rose to 1,160 from 1,070 in 2006 and the number of wild ass in the Little Rann of Kutch went up from 3,800 to 4,038 in 2009.
The sloth bear population, found mostly in the eastern tribal belt of the State, grew to 293 in 2011 compared to 270 in 2006.
"While the number of one particular animal might have grown in some State or other, Gujarat is probably the only State where the population of as many as four big wild animals have gone up," Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) Pradeep Khanna told The Pioneer.
Khanna attributed the phenomenon mainly to the "animal-friendly nature of the people and the local culture in Gujarat". He also cited the State's conservation efforts and the "dedication of the Forest department field staff" for the flourishing wildlife population.
"People in Gujarat have a lot of respect for wildlife," he said, adding that this positive attitude helps in conservation efforts.
Though the growing number of wild animals raises the possibility of man-animal conflicts, Khanna said that there are ways to tackle such problems.
When the growing number of Asiatic lions started to stray out of the designated Gir National Park, the State
Government quickly decided to notify new adjoining areas as sanctuaries. Thus, Mitiyala and Girnar areas were notified as new sanctuaries in 2004 and 2008 respectively to accommodate the growing number of the big cats, Khanna said.
The rise in the number of wild ass in the Little Rann of Kutch led to these animals straying into fields with standing crops. "People had to be convinced not to poison them," Khanna said.
Similarly, cattle-lifting by lions led to confrontations with villagers. "The compensation paid in such cases has been much less than the actual price of cattle killed. Villagers want more, but are tolerant enough not to harm the lions," he said.
The number of sloth bears is growing in the sanctuary areas of Surpaneswar (Narmada district), Jambugodha (Vadodara), Ratanmahal (Dahod), Balaram and Jessore (Banaskantha), primarily because these areas have been left unaffected by urbanization. "Good forest areas have not been diverted for industrial use," Khanna said.