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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Leopards, bears' population rise by 18.62%, 8.41%

31-05-2011
Leopards, bears' population rise by 18.62%, 8.41%
Times of India
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-05-31/ahmedabad/29603389_1_leopard-population-forest-officials-districts

The three-day wildlife census revealed that the population of sloth bears and leopards has increased by 18.62% and 8.41% respectively during a five-year period.

Releasing the data on Monday of the census that concluded on May 18, S K Nanda, principal secretary, forest and environment, said that there were 1,160 leopards in the state with the highest density being in Junagadh district which has 385 leopards.

In the last census in 2006, there were 310 leopards in Junagadh district. Amreli district, which has the third highest density, has 105 leopards now.

Nanda said there were 445 leopards in the four national parks and 22 sanctuaries, 508 in the forest areas, while the remaining were found close to human habitations.

Saurashtra-Kutch region has 565 leopards which is 48% of the total population in the state.

Forest officials said that the four national parks and 22 sanctuaries saw an increase of 85 leopards, while the forest area (other then these national parks and sanctuaries) saw a drop of nearly 55 leopards.

The officials said that of the 26 districts, the presence of leopards was found in 20 districts. However, they said, it cannot be said that the remaining six districts do not have leopard population at all. It has been revealed that the leopards have visited adjoining non-leopard districts occasionally.

The census data also revealed that five districts — Junagadh, Amreli, Dahod, Vadodara and Panchmahals — have a population of 70% leopards.

About the sloth bear, the officials said that the presence of sloth bear was found only in seven districts. Of these, there was only one sloth bear in Mehsana and 11 in Panchamahals, while the remaining were found in Banaskantha, Dahod, Narmada, Sabarkantha and Vadodara districts.

More leopards moving in to human neighbourhoods

31-05-2011
More leopards moving in to human neighbourhoods
Times of India By HImanshu Kaushik
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-05-31/ahmedabad/29604024_1_leopard-rescue-leopard-pug-marks-forest-officials

Of the total 1,160 leopards in the state, 207 are staying outside jungles, close to people. What`s more, this number is constantly going up. The recently concluded census found that this number of leopards shifting out of the jungle has risen by more than 40 per cent since the last census conducted in 2006.

Of the 207, 136 were found in Junagadh district alone. This is 65 per cent of the total leopard population in areas close to human habitations. And this was mainly because of the Gir Sanctuary and Girnar sanctuaries in the district. The state forest department officials said that in 2006 there were 73 leopards close to human habitat in Junagadh, this was 49 per cent of the 147 leopards spotted close to human habitat in the state.

Confirming the same, principal secretary S K Nanda said that the total increase of 60 leopards in the areas close to humans habitation was limited to Junagadh in Saurashtra and Mandvi in south Gujarat. He said that with the growing population of lions in the Gir Sanctuary, leopard have been elbowed out. Moreover, leopards love sugarcane fields and with the increase in cultivation of this crop in Saurashtra and Mandvi, the leopard has found a safe refuge.

A forest official said that the leopards were moving out of the protected area because of the increasing cattle grazing pressure on the forest areas. He said that the natural habitat of the wildlife was shrinking because of the degradation of the forest.

Additional principal chief conservator of forests H S Singh said, "Man-animal conflict was increasing not only in case of leopard but also sloth bear. And this because the wildlife population is increasing." Sharing the leopard rescue data, he said that the number of leopard rescue operations over the last ten years has increased by five times. He said that the habitat has remained the same and the population was growing and this was the reason why the animals were moving out.

Principal conservator of forests Pradeep Khanna talked about a case where a leopard in Mandvi had to be killed as it had turned man-eater. "In the past two more leopards had to be killed in Baria in Saurashtra after they were found to be disturbing other animals," Khanna said.

In December last year, Yuvraj of the erstwhile state of Utelia near Dhandhuka, Bhagirathsinh Vaghela, shot dead a leopard that was believed to have turned man-eater. Forest officials believe the leopard killed three people in Mandvi taluka of Surat. The killing was done at the behest of forest officials.

Whose pug mark is it anyway?: The enumerators were puzzled between the leopard pug marks and the lion pug marks. Additional principal chief conservator of forest H S Singh said that the pug mark of one-year-old lion cub are similar to that of the leopard. This problem was faced more in the Gir area. Singh said that after the initial observations, the enumerators were told that a lion cub cannot be alone and hence they should look for other pug marks also. "A lion cub of one year cannot be alone and will always have a male or a female lion close by. So we were able to avoid the possible error," said Singh.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Female lion cub falls into forest well; dies

30-05-2011
Female lion cub falls into forest well; dies
IBNLIVE
http://ibnlive.in.com/generalnewsfeed/news/female-lion-cub-falls-into-forest-well-dies/706472.html

A female lion cub died after falling into a well in Gir forest region in Junagadh district of Gujarat, forest officials said here today. The incident took place yesterday in Dungar range in North of Gir forest region, they said. According to officials, all the wells in the forest region are covered but the cub, which was 2-3 months old, entered through an opening and met a watery grave. A case has been registered in the matter and further investigations are on, they said.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Foresters play mother to leopard cubs

29-05-2011
Foresters play mother to leopard cubs
Times of India By HImanshu Kaushik
http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Client.asp?Daily=TOIA&showST=true&login=default&pub=TOI&Enter=true&Skin=TOINEW&AW=1306651090406

The forest department played mother to two leopard cubs that fell into a dry well and remained there for two days. The mother had to be caged to be reunited with the two cubs.

On May 24, the mother leopard and her cubs fell into a four-foot deep well in Khanderi village of Veraval. The leopard jumped out but could not rescue the cubs. She returned the following night to see them but sat helplessly. V S Aparnathi, round forester of Veraval, said on Tuesday he received a call from the Khanderi village about two cubs falling in the dry well on the field of Bachubhai Vala. Aparnathi said according to avillager when he went early morning to his field, he saw the mother trying to rescue her cubs from the well, but when she failed, she left the spot.

He said he was aware that the mother would return for the cubs. For the whole day he kept feeding the two cubs and even offered water and milk in bowls to the two-month-old cubs. He said since they did not have any alternative to unite the cubs with the mother, they decided to trap the mother in the cage. "We kept the cage in such a fashion that if the mother wanted to rescue the cub directly it could do so." Instead, seeing the goat, it first went for the kill and then fell into the trap and reunited with the cubs later.

Census puts leopards at 1,150, sloth bears at 280

29-05-2011
Census puts leopards at 1,150, sloth bears at 280
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/Census-puts-leopards-at-1150-sloth-bears-at-280/articleshow/8630673.cms

The recently concluded wildlife census has pegged the leopards' population at about 1,150 and that of sloth bears at about 280. A sneak peek into the census data from 17 districts in the state showed a rise by nearly 70 to 80 leopards and 30 sloth bears as compared to the 2006 census.

The highest increase in the number of leopards is 10% to 12% in Gir Sanctuary and the nearby Saurashtra region. Officials said there were 310 leopards in Junagadh district and 99 in Amreli district.

This figure of the two districts' leopard population is expected to be around 450 when the results will be declared officially by the department.

The forest department expects the numbers to go up by about 15% after the primary count, as now the data shows a rise of less than 10% of leopard population. However, the 2006 census had revealed there were 147 leopards outside the protected area.

A forest officer said this number has also increased and the number of leopards staying close to human habitat is anywhere between 160 and 170.

Officials said the increase in population speaks of better conservation and less incidents of man-animal conflict. They said be it lion, leopard, black buck or even sloth bear, there was an increase in population.

Experts involved with the census feel the leopards were moving out of the protected area because of the increasing cattle grazing pressure in the forest area.

"The natural habitat of the wildlife is shrinking because of the degradation of the forest. The government's decision to give land to tribals in forest areas has driven away the prey base for the big cats into the open area and this has resulted in the big cats moving out of the sanctuary. The recent incidents of man-leopard conflicts were an indication that the leopards were moving more to densely populated areas," said a senior forest official.

Pride forgives teen lion's fling, takes her back

29-05-2011
Pride forgives teen lion's fling, takes her back
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/Pride-forgives-teen-lions-fling-takes-her-back/articleshow/8630688.cms

Remember the teenage lioness from Gir forest that was deserted by her pride after she had a fling with a lion and bore his cubs? After nearly four months, the pride has forgiven her for this affair outside the pride and taken her back.

Forest officials who were closely monitoring this teenage mother, said that after her cub grew up to be about six months old, she slowly started moving towards the pride. The group too accepted her along with the cub, the main reason was that the male lion, her father, had moved out of the territory in search of a new one of his own.

The lioness found it difficult to hunt. In absence of proper food, not only the cub but she too had become weak. This lioness, which gave birth to three cubs, was immediately driven out by her pride in the jungle in Dedakadi range of Gir. The pride even killed one of the cubs as she fled this western part of the sanctuary. The reason for this social ostracism among the big cats, according to keen observers of lion behaviour, is that the young lioness had mated outside the pride.

Senior officials said that the three year old lioness feared that the lions could attack her cubs again and kill them and this fear kept her too close to the cubs. Officials said the sub-adult mother did not even go out for hunting leaving the cubs alone. She always fed herself from leftovers.

Sandeep Kumar, the deputy conservator of forest who has been closely monitoring the activity of this lioness, said, "In absence of male lions, it is three females who are monitoring their territory. The male who was dominating the group is now searching for its own new territory." Kumar said. He further said that four sub adults from the pride have also begun moving searching for their own territory.

POINTLESS PANGA WITH PANGOLIN

29-05-2011
POINTLESS PANGA WITH PANGOLIN
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik
http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Client.asp?Daily=TOIA&showST=true&login=default&pub=TOI&Enter=true&Skin=TOINEW&AW=1306651090406

For nearly three hours a pride of lions in Gir tried to make a meal out

Deputy conservator of forest Sandeep Kumar was on one of his routine rounds of the sanctuary earlier this week in the Paniya area when he saw two sub-adult cubs with a pangolin. Pangolins, which are anteaters, are not a usual sight in the Gir sanctuary.

This pangolin had strayed into the lions' den, and lived to tell the story. The anteater smelt danger and tried to move away, but it was surrounded by lions. In all, the pangolin encountered eight lions. As soon as the lions tried to bite into the softer parts of its body, the pangolin curled up into a ball, displaying enormous strength by foiling attempts to unroll it.

K u m a r said, "While patrolling, I witnessed this encounter where a pride of five sub-adult lions was surrounding the pangolin in a predatory mode." The incident repeated at another place just about a kilometre away where a lioness with her two cubs tried to corner the same pangolin.

"In my experience, it was for the first time that I encountered such an amazing event where an unusual prey was being attacked by lions," said Kumar. Lions are known to prey mostly on large-size animals in comparison to leopards prey on animals as small as rodents to large ones like the sambar deer. During the encounter, the lions repeatedly tried to unroll the pangolin but the pangolin did not give up. During the whole encounter, the only sound produced by the pangolin was a loud hiss, which is usually produced under the stress.

Kumar said "I have not encountered too many pangolins in Gir Sanctuary, in my two and half year tenure, I have only encounter pangolins on four occasion. The department is now planning to have a proper estimation of the population of Pangolins in the Gir sanctuary and also nearby areas.

TOUGH NUT TO CRACK











1 A pride of adult lions spots a rare visitor in their territory 2 Two of them try to attack the pangolin, which, sensing danger, curls up into a ball 3 When the lions' attempt to uncurl it fails, they decide to let it go 4 A kilometre away, the pangolin is waylaid by a lioness and her cubs 5 The pangolin, however, manages to escape from there too











Forest officer Sandeep Kumar

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lion falls into open well, dies

25-05-2011
Lion falls into open well, dies
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/rajkot/Lion-falls-into-open-well-dies/articleshow/8559261.cms

A five-year-old lion was found dead in an open well in a farm on Tuesday at Dasada village in Bhesan taluka of Junagadh district. Range forest officer Dipak Pandya said the lion's carcass has been fished out and sent for postmortem. The incident occurred at least 25 km from Junagadh when two lions came to the area on Saturday night, according to forest department sources. The lions had also attacked some animals in the area. It seems one of the lions fell into the well while jumping over the well, according to beat guards. Pandya said there was no parapet wall around the well.

Villagers informed the forest department on finding a lion in the well. Forest department rushed a team to the spot. A campaign is on for the past four years in the region aski-ng people to build parapet walls around the open wells. They ha-ve been advised to at least have a wired border around it. The campaign had achieved some success in this regard, forest department sources said.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mobile surveillance of lions outside Gir

20-05-2011
Mobile surveillance of lions outside Gir
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik
http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Client.asp?Daily=TOIA&showST=true&login=default&pub=TOI&Enter=true&Skin=TOINEW&GZ=T&AW=1306047335531

For the first time, the forest department has decided to shift its focus away from the Gir sanctuary. It plans to launch mobile surveillance outside the protected area apart from setting up inspection huts and watch towers.

These include coastal areas of Junagadh and Amreli and even Bhavnagar districts, where lions have been found straying. The state government in the 2011-12 budget has proposed to not only strengthen surveillance inside Gir, but for the first time has made allocation of funds for areas away from the sanctuary. The areas will also cover Gariyadhar, Liliya and Savarkundla Taluka of Amreli district and Mahuva and Palitana of Bhavnagar district where the big cats have been spotted during the May 2010 census.
As per April 2010 population estimate, the population of lions inside the sanctuary and their ecological zone is 411. In the coastal areas of Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts, there was a population of 74 lions.

The increase in population has resulted in spill over of the lion population outside Gir protected area (Gir PA). Therefore, at present, the most pressing threat to the lion population of the Gir PA comes from the possibility of increased hostility towards the resident lion population outside Gir PA. To combat these threats, it is very important to strengthen the patrolling efforts outside Gir PA boundaries as well, say foresters.

The forest department's Rs 12.5 crore budget will also include watch towers for other wildlife sanctuaries across the state to monitor big cats.

Forest officials said that there are very few watch towers in Gir sanctuary and these are near dams. But the new proposal will have more such towers in the entire sanctuary also with security check posts.

The stress is because with the development, vehicle movement has increased manifold, necessitating strict vigilance and protection in view of the serious offences recorded in the near past which include poaching, illegal stealing of paws, claws, and organs of lion.

The proposal also states that to strengthen protection, the state government has set up a Wildlife Crime Cell. A task force cell has also been established in Junagadh to strengthen and protect the Asiatic lion.

WWF vehicles to help in patrolling

20-05-2011
WWF vehicles to help in patrolling
Times of India
http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Client.asp?Daily=TOIA&showST=true&login=default&pub=TOI&Enter=true&Skin=TOINEW&GZ=T&AW=1306047335531

W orld India Wildlife recently Fund gave (WWF three ) trucks which will help to strengthen the patrolling and rescue operations of Gir National Park and nearby areas. The trucks were handed over to R L Meena, member secretary, Gujarat State Lion Conservation Society and chief conservator of forests, Wildlife Circle, Junagadh. To prevent the deaths of lions by falling into dry and unused wells around the Gir, WWF-India has assisted in fencing 530 wells.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gir documentary finds place in LA fest

20-05-2011
Gir documentary finds place in LA fest
Times of India
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-05-19/ahmedabad/29559602_1_gir-forest-asiatic-lions-documentary

'Sinh Samrajaya - Lions Domain', a 15-minute documentary on the Asiatic lions produced and directed by Gujarati producer Nirav Parikh and his wife Swati has found a place in the LA New Wave International Film Festival, Season 2 which was organised earlier this month in Los Angeles.

The Parikh family has been involved with the Gir forest for the past decade. Parikh's children Devashri (14) and Parth (9) also feature in the film where they talk of the lions.

The documentary is about green soldiers - the four members of the family. Swati Parikh said that unlike other tourists who just see the lions and leave, the green soldiers have a very interesting perspective to their observation and study during lions sighting in forest. The family has unique experience to share.

Swati said that Nirav has been filming the lions for the past 20 years, but the three days when this documentary was shot were the best days for the family.

"We all were witness to territorial fight and even the two kids witnessed this which is a rare shoot for any filmmaker."

Diving details of the documentary she said that the film reveals the social structure and the behaviour of the lions in Gir forest, where the female plays a major role in regulating the joint family affair. The disciplinary protocols, laid down by the king himself, has to be followed by every member of the family or else they face the consequences, said Swati.

Role of water to suffice the Gir lion eco-system, co-existence of mammals, herbivores, and avian fauna in particular are also projected in this film. She said that apart from the LA film festival, the documentary has been nominated for the Japan film festival too. However, the schedule is yet to be decided.

The film was first screened in the international bird watchers' conference held in Khijadia earlier this year.



Gujarat Forest Department bans setting up new hotels near Gir National Park

20-05-2011
Gujarat Forest Department bans setting up new hotels near Gir National Park
travelbizmonitor
http://www.travelbizmonitor.com/gujarat-forest-department-bans-setting-up-new-hotels-near-gir-national-park-13451

Hoteliers eyeing business opportunities around the Gir National Park in Gujarat ought to start looking for options elsewhere, as the Forests & Environment Department, Gujarat, has banned setting up new hotels within a two kilometre radius of the sanctuary.

According to a report in the Times of India, the department recently issued a notification restricting the building of any new hotel businesses in a two kilometre radius of the national park. The decision is aimed at giving Asiatic lions free access to the Sasan Gir sanctuary and to protect their natural corridor.

Forest officials said, however, that the hotels and farmhouses which are already in business would be unaffected by the new regulation and could function as earlier. Apparently, after the tourism department's advertisements featuring Gujarat's brand ambassador, Amitabh Bachchan, there was a mad rush of the tourists to the sanctuary. Sensing opportunities, businessmen started buying land in the area, which consequently forced the State Forest Department to come out with the regulation.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cats show their camera-shy side

19-05-2011
Cats show their camera-shy side
Times of India By Yagnesh Mehta
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-05-19/ahmedabad/29559939_1_forest-officials-leopard-lion-census

The three-day leopard census has brought to light that the spotted cats seem just as camera shy as Gir lions.

It was in May 2010 when the forest department first introduced the concept of taking photographs during the lion census.

But in the leopard counting exercise, not many enumerators succeeded in doing this.

Forest officials said, "During the lion census, 90% of the enumerators were able to take pictures. But, in the case of leopards, only 40 per cent could do so."

He said they were not also sure of the quality of the photographs taken.

Narrating his experience while posted in Kherambha village in Junagadh district, a volunteer said, "We were on a watch tower constantly keeping an eye; we saw a leopard coming towards the water point. The team immediately got alert and pen, papers and cameras were out. But before we could see the animal closely, it disappeared."

He added that the team then went down and noted the pugmarks with the help of Plaster of Paris (POP). "During the preliminary census - on Monday and Tuesday - we were able to spot a family of three, including a cub. Watch towers were set especially near the water points," he said.

Dr Shiv Shanker, who was in Palanpur, said leopards were spotted thrice.

"We even tried taking photographs but are not sure of their quality," he said. He added that these leopards were spotted at different places.

"We took their pug marks using the POP." Shakti Pathak, an environmentalist in Vansda, said that they could not spot the leopard but could see its droppings.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Expert backs shifting of Gir lions to Kuno in MP

16-05-2011
Expert backs shifting of Gir lions to Kuno in MP
Indian Express By HITARTH PANDYA PARAMBIKULAM (KERALA)
http://epaper.indianexpress.com/IE/IEH/2011/05/17/ArticleHtmls/17_05_2011_604_007.shtml

THERE is a strong case of trans-locating endangered Asiatic lions from Gir forests to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh but the same should be done only with the consent of the Gujarat government and the people of the state, wildlife expert Ravi Chellam has said.

Chellam, who is the director of an NGO, Wildlife Conservation Society, and an expert on the Asiatic lions in Gir, was in Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Kerala to address a national meet on conservation of wildlife.

Chellam, who had conducted a survey while he was

with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and recommended that Gir lions be shifted to Kuno, told The Indian Express that the trans-location would not be worth risking if the Gujarat government does not agree for the project. "The lions in Gir are already moving outside the reserved areas, which indicates the space crunch they are facing.
There is a strong case for trans-location to achieve a sizeable population for them," Chellam said.
Praising efforts made by the Gujarat government in taking care of lions, he said, "When you have only one habitat for an endangered species, not setting up the second prey range is not very wise. Any catastrophic disease or major fire in Gir means there will be no solution."

Elaborating on why Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary was a choice, Chellam said, "We did a survey for 18 months. Kuno has been a range for lions earlier. There were three proposed sites and Kuno emerged as the best one." `THE LIONS in Gir are already moving outside the reserved areas, which indicates the space crunch they are facing. There is a strong case for translocation to achieve a sizeable population for them'

Leopard numbers up 15-20%

18-05-2011
Leopard numbers up 15-20%
Times of India
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-05-18/ahmedabad/29555719_1_forest-officials-leopard-population-sugarcane-fields

A preliminary count arrived at the three-day leopard census which began on Monday has shown that big cats have been well conserved in Gujarat. The initial trends indicated an increase of about 15-20 per cent in the leopard population in the state.

This census might throw up some surprises too. Forest officials said that there are indications to suggest that leopards have thrived close to areas occupied by humans.

A senior forest official said that the recent incidents of man-leopard conflicts were an indication that the leopard is now moving more into densely populated areas.

However, there is not much of increase in the number of sloth bears. The 2006 census had revealed that there were 1070 leopards and 247 sloth bears in the state.

The census is being conducted over 17 districts. Specific areas have been identified by forest officials.

Forest department officials said that during the lion census too, they had carried out a similar count which had thrown up a near-perfect data, which was echoed after the final count was complete and it was proven that Gujarat has no less than 411 Asiatic lions.

Officials in the forest department said prior to conducting the census, the forest department officials take an estimate. This estimate is taken to ascertain the area to be covered for the census. During this initial estimation, a head-count is also taken. The sources said that the leopard population has shown a satisfactory growth. Forest officials said that the increase in leopard population is uniform across the state.

Forest Officials said that in Saurashtra, especially in Gir sanctuary and nearby areas, an increase of 10-15 per cent in leopard population has been recorded. Forest officials said leopards were spotted more near sugar cane fields, outside protected areas. This, they said, have turned out to be the new home for these big cats.

Sugarcane fields are now more like isolation zones for the big cats and hence these fields have turned into breeding grounds.

Experts involved with the census feel that the leopards are moving out of the protected area because of various factors like increasing presence of cattle that graze in the forest area.

Another senior official from the department said that the natural habitat of wildlife was shrinking because of the denudation of the forest.

The state government`s decision to allot land to adivasis in the forest areas has also driven away the prey base for the big cats into the open area and this has resulted in big cats moving out of the sanctuary.

Wild fire: Activists fear two lion cubs missing, foresters say all safe

18-05-2011
Wild fire: Activists fear two lion cubs missing, foresters say all safe
Indian Express
http://www.indianexpress.com/news/wild-fire-activists-fear-two-lion-cubs-missing-foresters-say-all-safe/792406/

A day after a huge fire broke out in the Krakaj forest area, environmental activists on Tuesday expressed fear for safety of two new born Asiatic lion cubs, which were reportedly too young to walk properly.

The forest was home to more than 10 Asiatic lions. While both, the Forest Department and activists, confirm that the big cats and other animals fled to safer parts of the forest on Monday evening, they differ over their safety conditions.

"The fire has been extinguished. There has been no damage," said Range Forest Officer R Rathod, adding, "We have got reports that all the animals are safe."

On the reports that two cubs might be missing, he said, "We have not received any such news."

Contrary to this, the president of Dristi Paryavaran Trust (DPT), which has been associated with environment conservation in 'interior Gir', said, "Only last week had we spotted two cubs. One would be now five-day-old and the other may be 10-12 days old. When cubs are this young, they cannot walk or run properly."

Mahendra Khuman further said that they had been doing a survey of the area after the fire broke out. "Maldharies (milkmen) and volunteers claimed to have seen at least 10 big cats fleeing the area, but there was no cub with them. We have been trying to locate these two cubs since this morning," he said.

Krakaj in Amreli district is spread over 6,000 bighas. Forest officials said an inquiry has been order to find out the cause of the fire and the damage to the forest.

Locals, meanwhile, said that over 700 bighas, mainly covered with dry grass, might have been gutted in the blaze.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Foresters to catch big cats on camera

17-05-2011
Foresters to catch big cats on camera
Times of India by Himanshu Kaushik
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/Foresters-to-catch-big-cats-on-camera/articleshow/8376480.cms

After the ongoing leopard census, the forest department plans to count leopards in the Girnar sanctuary in Junagadh and central Gujarat using high-resolution night-vision cameras, as an experiment.

In-charge principal chief conservator of forest H S Singh said that they had proposed camera trap census to the Wildlife institute of India. Around 150-200 odd cameras would be installed in Girnar and central Gujarat which will constantly monitor the movement of the animal for nearly 60 days.

"Once this data is available, the department would analyze it. Leopard is a shy animal. Hence in the count taken through the traditional method, the chances of error are high. Also in the night the sighting is very difficult. Use of cameras will help record these left out animals." He said that camera trap method by capturing the images of the animal, was tried in the tiger census and found to be successful.

Senior forest officials said that it has been revealed that for leopard, the count was much more than estimated through pug marks and direct sighting methods. Hence this camera trap method will bring out the difference in both the counts. This would also form the basis for the calculating the percentage of errors in the traditional and scientific census.

Foresters say the 20 per cent increase in the tiger population can be attributed to the use of cameras for the census. During the tiger census in Sariska and other tiger reserves, this system was used. The results from camera trap method were more accurate, they added.

Leopard census begins in state

17-05-2011
Leopard census begins in state
Times of India
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/Leopard-census-begins-in-state/articleshow/8376493.cms

The much-awaited three-day leopard and sloth bear census kicked off on Monday. The census began in 17 districts simultaneously across Gujarat. The last census which was conducted in the year 2006 had shown a population of 1,070 leopards in the state.

The forest department officials said that about 5,000 volunteers and foresters have been roped in for census, which is conducted once in every five years.

The census, said forest officials, will have two different phases of counting the big cats - the first which began on Monday would be the preliminary count, while the final count will begin from Tuesday evening and end on Wednesday.

In-charge principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife) H S Singh said that the count will be concluded within a week and the data will be sent to the state government for final approval.

The officials said that leopards being shy animals, they would be in their hideouts which make direct sighting method partially ineffective. The state forest department officials have decided that they will use the pug marks method, along with the direct sighting method.

Forest officials involved in the census said: "The enumerators who go out in the field for census will carry plaster of paris (POP). When the enumerator spots a leopard pug mark, an impression is taken with the POP. These pugmarks would then be analysed by experts who would be heading that team."

They said that information received from the local residents would also be considered by the enumerators while estimating the count.

The forest officials said the census in 2006 had revealed a leopard population of 1,070 in Gujarat; the number of sloth bears then was 247.

The officials said, the 2006 census revealed that there were 360 leopards in four national parks and 22 sanctuaries, while another 563 were in the forest areas and the 147 remaining were living in close proximity to human settlements.

The 2006 census had revealed an increase of 71 leopards as compared to the 2002 census. In 2002 the number reported was 999 leopards in the state.

They said that all eyes were now trained on the census as there has been more number of leopard attacks reported in south Gujarat and in Saurashtra. "This is an indication that the number of leopards living close to human habitats might have increased in later years," said a forest official.

Nirma Cement plant not viable ecologically, says panel

11-05-2011
Nirma Cement plant not viable ecologically, says panel
DNA
http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_nirma-cement-plant-not-viable-ecologically-says-panel_1542128

The Expert Committee (EC) constituted by the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) has held that the Nirma Cement plant at Mahuva taluka of Bhavnagar district is not viable for ecological balance.

The report also challenged Nirma's claim that it has already invested Rs430 crore in the construction of the plant.

According to report, the company has spent around Rs100 crore so far.

In its report, the EC stated that the location of Nirma Cement Plant, captive coal based power plant and coke over plant on 268 hectare of land allotted by the government of Gujarat at Padhiaraka village of Mahuva taluka is part of the Samadhiala Bandhara water body and its periphery.

It further said that this was a coastal saline natural ecosystem that was converted into fresh water ecosystem by construction of the Bandharo to prevent salinity, ingression in the surrounding fertile crop fields.

It is also used to store water for irrigation during dry period and to help recharge ground water.

The report stated that the location of heavy polluting units will generate emissions that will affect crop yields.

This was because the emissions are bound to interfere in the photosynthesis and transpiration and can also bring changes in the ecology of water body.

The report further said that the accidental release of effluents may contribute to the degradation of environment and may even kill the fish in the water body. It may also severely damage the aquatic flora and fauna.

Commenting on the lime stone mining in the vicinity of the cement plant, the report said it will result in reduction in catchment area and possible salinity ingression and make the entire area which is agriculturally important, particularly for onion production (Mahuva alone constitute 6% of the country's production) environmentally and ecologically degraded.

The report also talked about the Asiatic Lion sanctuary. Mahuva taluka also harbours Asiatic Lions and four of them were spotted in and around Bandhara water body, the report said.

"In fact, there is a reserve forest within 10 km radius of the site. Two critically endangered vulture species white backed vulture and longbilled vulture and many other birds are seen around the Bandhara."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

No hotels within 2km of Gir sanctuary

15-05-2011
No hotels within 2km of Gir sanctuary
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik
http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Client.asp?Daily=TOIA&showST=true&login=default&pub=TOI&Enter=true&Skin=TOINEW&AW=1305371008273

Hoteliers eyeing business opportunities around Gir sanctuary may not have many options left. The state forest department has banned such activities within the two-km radius of the sanctuary.
 
The department recently issued a notification restricting setting up any new hotel business in the two km periphery of the Sanctuary. The decision is aimed at giving Asiatic lions free access to the Sasan Gir sanctuary and to protect their natural corridor. 

Forest officials said, however, those hotels and farmhouses which are already in business would continue to do so. He said af- ter the tourism department's advertisement featuring Gujarat brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, there was a mad rush of the tourists to the sanctuary. Sensing opportunities, businessmen started buying land in the area. This forced the state forest department to come out with the regulation. 

SK Nanda, principal secretary, forest and environment department said the restriction on the hotel industry was only to give free excess to the lions. He said that the movement of the lions was getting restricted because of the developments happening around the sanctuary. Nanda said the department has also asked existing hotel owners to have their flood lights would not affect the movement of lions.


Raids continue on stone quarries in Junagadh

12-05-2011
Raids continue on stone quarries in Junagadh
Times of India
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-05-12/rajkot/29535940_1_mineral-theft-stone-quarries-raids

The raid conducted by the state mine and mineral department against mineral theft in Junagadh district stone quarries continued for the second consecutive day on Thursday when the department officials trained their guns on Vijapur village.

"There are stone quarries in the villages near Junagadh like Palasava and Vijapur where mineral theft is rampant. We had recently received a tip-off in this regard, following which a team of state mine and mineral department was dispatched from Gandhinagar to conduct the raid," said a source from the department.

The team of officials include women staff as well to deal with local protesters that include women.

Lioness dies of snake-bite at Gir sanctuary

11-05-2011
Lioness dies of snake-bite at Gir sanctuary
Times of India
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-05-11/flora-fauna/29531660_1_lioness-snake-bite-gir-national-park


A seven-year-old lioness has died due to a snake-bite at the Sayna Vasiya village in the Una range of the Gir National Park.

Manishwar Raja, divisional forest officer, east zone, said the lioness, who was from a group of three, consisting of two lions, died last evening.

The body was sent to a veterinary hospital at Jasdar for post mortem.

Gir is the only place where Asiatic lions are found. As per the 2010 census, their number was 411.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Eco-sensitive zones around 4 Guj sanctuaries get nod

13-05-2011
Eco-sensitive zones around 4 Guj sanctuaries get nod
Times of India By HImanshu Kaushik
http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Client.asp?Daily=TOIA&showST=true&login=default&pub=TOI&Enter=true&Skin=TOINEW&AW=1305261836130

Industrial Activities To Be Restricted

Gujarat's wildlife just got a new lease of life. The Central government on Thursday declared the setting up of eco-sensitive zones in a five-km radius around four important sanctuaries — Gir, Purna in the Dangs, Vansda National Park in Navsari and Narayan Sarovar in Kutch. 

The Supreme Court had directed the state governments to identify eco-sensitive zones around wildlife reserves. The Centre's stamp of approval came on Thursday. 

The new guidelines on eco-sensitive zones ban construction, mining, other industrial activities and some tourism activities in these areas. Felling of trees, change in agriculture systems, commercial use of natural water resources, setting up of hotels and resorts, flying over in an aircraft or hot air balloon, discharge of effluents and solid waste in natural water bodies will be regulated.

Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh said the ministry is also considering Balaram-Ambaji in Banaskantha, Marine National Park, Jamnagar and Shoolpaneshwar sanctuaries for similar zones. 

Ramesh in a letter to chief minister Narendra Modi said he hoped to finalise them in the next four weeks. Balaram-Ambaji sanctuary is known for sloth bears while Shoolpaneshwar has four-horned antelope and barking deer population.

Monitoring of the zones will be done by a committee headed by the district collector. Other members will include a representative from the Union ministry of environment and forests, regional officer of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board, the local town planner and the deputy conservator of forests. The notification issued for Gir sanctuary says 8,318 hectares have been declared eco-sensitive in Junagadh and Bhesan talukas of Junagadh district. 

In Narayan Sarovar, 22,588 hectares of Abdasa, Lakhpat, Nakhatrana talukas in Kutch are now eco-sensitive. The eco-sensitive zone of Purna sanctuary will cover Ahwa and Songadh while that of Vansda sanctuary will cover parts of Ahwa, Vansda and Vyara. Ten-member panel to monitor eco-sensitivity violations 

Ahmedabad: A ten member monitoring committee will not only enforce the guidelines of eco-sensitivity, but it will also be responsible to file complaints for violation if any. This was revealed in the notification issued for eco-sensitive zone by the Union ministry of environment and forests, Government of India on Thursday. 

Of the ten member committee headed by the collector, five have already been fixed by the Union ministry of forest and environment, while the other five have not been specified yet. 

The committee will however, not be empowered to give environmental clearance. "If any activity requires prior permission or environmental clearance, such activities should be referred to the state level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority which is the competent authority for giving such clearances," said the notification.

The notification further said that the committee may invite representatives or experts from concerned department or associations to assist in deliberation of the issues. However, these members would be made permanent members of the committee.


Also the notification further said that the chairman or the member secretary of the committee shall be empowered to file complaints under the Environment Protection Act of 1986 for non-compliance of the provisions of the notification issued for the eco-sensitive zone.

Not just meeting, but the committee will have to submit a report about the action taken at the end of every financial year that is by March 31 of the each year.

The ministry of forest and environment shall give directions from time to time to the committee for effective implementation and monitoring of eco-sensitive zones.

The Narayan Sarovar in Kutch

Wildlife board members question nod to Girnar ropeway project

12-05-2011
Wildlife board members question nod to Girnar ropeway project
Times of India
http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Client.asp?Daily=TOIA&showST=true&login=default&pub=TOI&Enter=true&Skin=TOINEW&AW=1305261836130

Environment minister Jairam Ramesh's decision to give a go-ahead for the ropeway project in Girnar wildlife sanctuary has been questioned by some members in the standing committee meeting of National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), who claim the project would lead to local extinction of long-billed vultures.

The ropeway will pass through a known breeding site of the long billed vulture — Gyps indicus — and if constructed, it would lead to its local extinction, NBWL standing committee member Prerna Bindra said in a recent meeting chaired by Ramesh, which gave a final nod to the project. Along with Bindra, another member Divyabhanusinh Chavda also expressed concern regarding the possible impacts would cause to the resident vulture population, according to a ministry document.

Bindra, who insisted that her note of dissent on the minister's decision should be officially recorded, said, "The critically endangered long billed vulture has seen a collapse of nearly 99 per cent of its population, and is categorised as critically endangered". 

"Ironically, the vulture is part of MoEF's species recovery programme," she said. Citing a ministry report, Bindra said if the ropeway is constructed, it would lead to the local extinction of the long-billed vulture in north Gujarat. The ropeway over Girnar wildlife sanctuary will connect Bhavnath Taleti and Ambaji temples in Junagadh district. Ramesh, while granting the final goahead to the Girnar ropeway, had said height of the towers has to be increased to avoid disturbance to nesting sites of vultures. While granting conditional clearance to the project in February, Ramesh had asked the Gujarat government to submit a report within two months about its study to consider alternate alignment of the ropeway project to ensure that it does not cut across the prime vulture habitat. 

But Gujarat rejected the minister's suggestion saying an alternate route was not feasible in the instant case, and requested the standing committee of NBWL to consider their proposal "in its original form without change in the alignment proposed".

WALKING THE TIGHTROPE

Monday, May 09, 2011

Stupa from Mauryan era found in Gir sanctuary

08-05-2011
Stupa from Mauryan era found in Gir sanctuary
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-05-07/rajkot/29520028_1_stupa-sanchi-girnar-forest

The recent discovery of a stupa in Girnar sanctuary by Delhi University historian Dr Nayanjot Lahiri has suddenly caught the attention of not only archaeologists but even the Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

Ramesh has written to chief minister Narendra Modi asking for a complete archaeological survey of Girnar sanctuary as well as Sasan Gir sanctuary. "Lahiri recommends a thorough archaeological survey of the Girnar Reserve Sanctuary and Sasan Gir which, she believes, will reveal that the forest there have protected not merely wildlife but our historic heritage as well," he said.

The Girnar sanctuary is home to around 24 lions, while the Sasan Gir sanctuary is home to over 290 lions. The stupa in question is locally called Lakha Medi and is near the Bhordevi temple.

Originally, this stupa might have been more than 50 feet high and its core is of solid brick. Ramesh said that this might well be a Mauryan stupa. Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh and the stupa at Piprahwa in Uttar Pradesh also have solid bricks cores. These old bricks are being used by the Bhordevi temple to build new structure.

Another such stupa locally called Rathakot was located near a temple Jina Baba Ji Madi and is located a little beyond Hasnapur Dam. The stupa there is in better condition then Lakha Medi.

Lahiri said there are a couple of Buddhist stupas that still stand in the Girnar forest and have been practically forgotten. She said that Lakha Medi stupa is built on a rocky knoll, about seven kilometres east of Junagadh.

"My own tryst with the Lakha Medi stupa was made possible because Junagadh's well-known nature man Rasik Bhatt had roamed these forests looking for medicinal herbs and plants," said Lahiri. She said the Sanchi stupa, which is similar to the one in Lakha Medi, has been conserved and, hence, is a world heritage site, but Lakha Medi still remains forgotten.

S K Nanda, principal secretary of ministry for forests and environment, said that the state archaeology department and the forest department will meet next week to chalk out a detail roadmap for the conservation of these stupas. "If required, the forest department will also have a different access for these stupas," he added.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

lion cubs born at Rampara Vidi, foresters jubilant

07-05-2011
lion cubs born at Rampara Vidi, foresters jubilant
Deshgujarat.com
http://deshgujarat.com/2011/05/07/3-lion-cubs-born-at-rampara-vidi-foresters-jubilant/

Foresters of Rampara vidi of Saurashtra are in celebration mood after three lion cubs born to a pair of lions brought here from Gir sanctuary.

Forest officials say the two females and a male were born on Thursday and are the first lions to be born in Rampara vidi.

Five Asiatic lions and three lionesses of selective gene pool were brought to Rampara vidi from Gir sanctuary for creation of a new settlement of Asiatic lions. They are now kept at Rampara vidi with utmost care in observation of experts.

Local forest official are excited about success of this new settlement cum breeding centre. They have declared Rampara vidi as prohibited area. New born cubs, their mother lioness 'Asha' and father lion 'Babaro' are under CCTV camera vigil round the clock.











Leopard census to start from May 16

05-05-2011
Leopard census to start from May 16
Times of India
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-05-04/ahmedabad/29508081_1_leopard-attacks-leopard-census-forest-officials

The much-awaited leopard census will be held for three days from May 16. Along with this leopard census, the state forest department officials will also conduct a census of the sloth bear in the state during the same period. The 2006 census had revealed a leopard population of 1,070 in Gujarat; the number of sloth bears then was only 247.

Forest officials said the census, which is conducted every five years, was due this year. According to forest department sources, on May 16 and 17 a primary count would be taken up, while the final one would begin in the evening of 17 and end on 18.

Officials said, the 2006 census revealed that there were 360 leopards in four national parks and 22 sanctuaries, while another 563 (around 50% of the big cat's total population) were in the forest area and the remaining were in the revenue area.

Meanwhile, the 2002 data showed that there were 999 leopards in the state. Officials said that all eyes were now focused on the census as there were more leopard attacks in south Gujarat and even in Saurashtra. This was an indication that the number of leopards living close to human habitats might have increased. In 2006, the number of leopards close to villages and suburban zones was 147.

Officials of the forest department said that according to a rough estimate there was a possibility of over 30-40% rise in leopard's population in areas where humans stay. Officials said that even in Gir Sanctuary there was a sizeable increase in the leopard population. They said that this was evident from the capturing and citing of leopards in the sanctuary. The officials added that unlike the previous year, when 50 odd leopards were rescued or captured, 2010 saw a jump of over 100%. They daid that around 100 leopards were rescued or taken in captivity in 2010.

For the forest officials the recent trend of killing leopards in south Gujarat was worrisome and required intervention. Such man-animal conflicts are bound to increase as population keeps rising and moving out in the revenue area.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Is competition with livestock detrimental for native wild ungulates? A case study of chital (Axis axis) in Gir Forest, India



04-05-2011

Is competition with livestock detrimental for native wild ungulates? A case study of chital (Axis axis) in Gir Forest, India
Journal of Tropical Ecology Paper by Chittaranjan Dave1 and Yadvendradev Jhala
Magazine

Dept of Animal Ecology & Conservation Biology, Wildlife Institute of India, PO Box 18, Dehradun 248001, India
(Accepted 21 October 2010)

Abstract: Livestock graze Indian forests to varying extents but their impact on wild native ungulates is rarely understood. Negative impacts of sympatric livestock on chital (Axis axis) demography and food availability were assessed and compared in the Gir Forest, India, at different spatio-temporal scales. No difference in average group size (mean ± SE) (7.11 ± 0.8 indiv.) (short-term response), fawn to doe ratio (0.43 ± 0.03) (short- to medium-term response), chital density (44.8 ± 7.1 indiv. km−2 ) (medium- to long-term response), and rate of population increase (r = 0.07 ± 0.014) (long-term response) was found between areas sympatric and livestock-free at the larger spatial scale of Gir Forest. Instead, chital density was correlated with rainfall (r = 0.92). After controlling for confounding factors of rainfall, vegetation community, terrain and lion density, chital density was 62% higher for livestock-free compared with sympatric areas but other demographic parameters showed no statistical difference. Peak above-ground biomass was greater in livestock-free (3255 ± 209 kg ha−1 ) compared to sympatric areas (1438 ± 152 kg ha−1 ), but chital food was more abundant in moderately grazed areas compared to livestock-free areas. Overall, long-term livestock grazing has depressive effects on chital but in the short term habitat productivity and suitability overrides the depressive effects of sympatric livestock.

Key Words: above-ground biomass production, body condition, deer, density, distance sampling, group size, realized growth rate

INTRODUCTION

Livestock are sympatric with wild ungulates in most forest areas of India (Kothari et al. 1989) where they potentially compete for important resources. The interactions with livestock could be detrimental (Madhusudan 2004, Mishra et al. 2004), facilitative (Rannestad et al. 2006) or have no effect on wild ungulates (Berwick 1974, Khan
1995). Competition between domestic and wild ungulates has long been the focus of scientific investigation (Pickford & Reid 1948), yet recent reviews show a remarkable scarcity of information on the subject (Prins
2000, Putman 1996). One of the important reasons for the indecisive outcomes of such studies is due to the difficulty in demonstrating livestock as the only factor responsible for poor population performance of wild herbivores through depletion of shared resources. Ecological heterogeneity resulting from environmental stochasticity has a fundamental effect on herbivore


population dynamics especially in semi-arid landscapes (Owen-Smith 2002) and could potentially mask the competitive effects of livestock. Due to difficulties in designing and implementing perturbation experiments (Prins & Olff 1998, Schoener 1983, Young et al.

2005), rarely are data collected on a spatio-temporal scale to understand and control for the effects of the environmental stochasticity in studies involving competition. An alternative approach is to assess the population performance of a species of interest over ecologically comparable sites differing in terms of sympatric livestock. Such opportunities abound in protected areas of India where human settlements along with their livestock have been relocated in recent times (Kothari et al. 1989).
We use chital (Axis axis, Exelbern), an important forest ungulate in the subcontinent, as a model to study the effects of livestock on native ungulates in the Gir Forest of Gujarat, India. If sympatric livestock had a detrimental effect on chital then the following predictions that cover various time-scale responses should hold. In areas of sympatry with livestock we would expect chital

to have: (1) Smaller group sizes – a population parameter that balances anti-predatory strategy (Beauchamp 2003, Bednekoff & Lima 2004) with immediate food-resource availability (Jarman 1974). (2) Poorer body condition – this is a short-term (seasonal) response to poor forage quality and quantity (Brochu et al. 1988, Clutton-Brock et al. 1997, Sinclair & Norton-Griffiths 1982). (3) Lower fawn to doe ratio – an annual response to reduced forage quantity and quality (Robbins 1993). (4) Lower density – chital density is a medium- to long-term response to range conditions incorporating processes of fecundity, mortality, immigration and emigration (Sinclair et al.

2006). (5) Poor population growth – the realized rate of increase r of a population is a long-term collective response of all individuals in a population to environmental influences (Caughley 1977). (6) Depleted food resources – above-ground herbaceous biomass, especially chital food resources, should be depleted in sympatric areas compared with livestock-free areas (Madhusudan 2004, Mishra et al. 2004). (7) Also, we would expect a negative correlation between chital and livestock abundance. Livestock density has reduced over the past 30 y following relocations of human settlements from the Gir Forest (Singh & Kamboj 1996). In this paper we test these hypotheses with field data collected between 2004 and
2006.

STUDY AREA

The Gir Forest is home to the last surviving population of the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica). It spreads over 1883 km2 including 259 km2 as a National Park which was created in 1978 by relocating all human settlements and livestock from within it (Singh & Kamboj 1996). The remaining part of the Gir Forest is a wildlife sanctuary, which is a multiple-use area with resident human and livestock populations but with wildlife especially lion conservation as the primary objective.

The Gir Forest experiences three distinct seasons, cold season (November–February), hot season (March–June) and rainy season (July–October). Average minimum and maximum temperature was 9 ◦ C and 42 ◦ C respectively (Singh & Kamboj 1996). The average annual precipitation for the past 20 y showed a gradient decreasing eastward. The precipitation in the western part of Gir sanctuary was 89 ± 2 cm y−1 ; Central, National Park and adjacent areas was 80 ± 5 cm y−1 and the eastern part of Gir sanctuary was 56 ± 2 cm y−1 (Singh & Kamboj 1996). The rainfall gradient is well reflected in the vegetation communities (Qureshi & Shah 2004). The western part of the sanctuary supports relatively more diverse, productive and riparian plant communities dominated by teak (Tectona grandis L.) compared with the National Park and eastern part of the Gir sanctuary where Anogeissus latifolia (Roxb. ex DC.) Wall. ex Guill. & Perr. and thorn forest dominate (Qureshi & Shah 2004).

The Gir Forest is largely composed of dry deciduous vegetation, which is classified as 5A/C1b biogeographic subtype (Champion & Seth 1968). Wild ungulate species of Gir are chital, sambar (Cervus unicolor, Kerr), nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus, Pallas), four-horned antelope (Tetracerus quadricornis, Blainville), chinkara (Gazella bennettii, Sykes) and wild pig (Sus scrofa, Linnaeus). In Gir, chital constitute 91% in terms of density and 78% of the wild ungulate community biomass (Dave 2008). Chital contributes 44–50% to the lion's diet (Jhala et al. 2006). The other major food source for lions in Gir was livestock, contributing between 26–70% to the lion's diet (Chellam 1993, Jhala et al. 2006, Joslin 1973).

The study was conducted at two spatial scales; at the landscape scale we sampled the entire Gir Forest. At a local scale, we sampled two similar sites in the eastern part of the Gir Forest constituting two evacuated settlement sites (livestock free) and the grazing areas of five settlements (area sympatric with livestock). By estimating and comparing chital demographic parameters from these two sites we controlled for the confounding factors of topography, pastoral settlement site selection (as they tend to be located near perennial water), lion density and plant productivity resulting from the rainfall gradient (Allcock & Hik 2003, Coe et al. 1976, Harrington et al.1995).

METHODS

Chital demographic characteristics at the landscape scale

We used distance sampling (Buckland et al. 1993, Burnham et al. 1980) on systematic line transects (n = 44 spatial and 82 temporal replicates; with 231 km of effort) spaced throughout the Gir Forest for estimating chital densities and group sizes between December 2006 and January 2006. The Gir Forest is divided into 37 forest blocks for administrative purposes. We systematically distributed line transects throughout the entire Gir Forest by demarcating one or two line transects in each forest block (Figure 1). Each 2–3-km transect was sampled two or three times during early morning hours (6h30–8h30) when ungulate activity was highest. Chital density was estimated using the program DISTANCE 5.0 (Thomas et al. 2010). Mean (MGS) and typical group sizes (TGS) of chital (Jarman 1974) were computed. Data on TGS were bootstrapped (Krebs 1989) 100 times to generate standard errors and we compared MGS and TGS between livestock-free and sympatric areas by means of a t-test (Zar 2005).

Figure 1. Location of foot transects and intensive study area around the evacuated and existing pastoral settlements on a precipitation gradient map of the Gir Forest. Map inset shows the location of Gir within the State of Gujarat, India.

of May and first week of June 2006) we systematically sampled throughout the Gir Forest and scored a minimum of three chital in each group encountered (n = 730 chital) for body condition. The index consisted of scoring different regions of the chital's body, i.e. the rump, thigh, pelvic girdle, pectoral girdle and ribs (Riney 1960). We used multi-response permutation procedure (MRPP, Berry & Mielke 1983) in BLOSSOM software (Cade & Richards 2005) to simultaneously compare the five body-condition scores of chital obtained from livestock-free areas and areas sympatric with livestock. We computed the fawn to doe ratios (Caughley 1977, Skalski et al. 2005) of chital considering sampling with replacement scheme and compared them between livestock-free and sympatric areas using Fisher's Exact test (Zar 2005). Chital density, mean group size and typical group size were compared between areas that were sympatric and livestock-free by independent-sample t-tests (Zar 2005).

Growth rate and abundance of chital in relation to livestock abundance at the landscape scale

Several researchers have reported ungulate densities of Gir (Berwick 1974, Goyal et al. 2004, Joslin 1973, Khan et al. 1996). Simultaneously, a good record has been kept by the protected-area management on the number of human families and livestock resettled in the past 30 y (Singh & Kamboj 1996). We used this information to compute the realized rate of increase for chital by regressing natural logarithm-transformed density estimates against time (Caughley 1977) for the entire Gir Forest and separately for the livestock-free (National Park) and sympatric (Sanctuary) areas of the Gir Forest. We computed the Pearson's correlation coefficient (Zar 2005) between chital abundance and livestock (cattle and buffalo) abundance over a temporal scale of 30 y (n = 5 population estimates).

Chital demography at the local scale

At these two ecologically similar sites in the eastern part of Gir Forest, we collected data on chital group sizes, fawn to doe ratio (n = 45 and 52 for livestock- free and sympatric area, respectively), body condition (n = 124 and 160 for livestock-free and sympatric area, respectively), and density (n = 32 and 36 for livestock- free and sympatric area, respectively) by line transects (n = 68 spatial replicates, Buckland et al. 1993). The data were analysed to compare chital demographic parameters between livestock-free and sympatric areas of the Gir Forest.

Livestock density

The livestock in the Gir Forest are herded into thorn corrals at each settlement every night as an anti-predatory strategy against lions and leopards. Livestock numbers were estimated for each settlement in the intensive study area by total counts when they were confined in the corrals.

Pastoralists take their stock out into the forest every morning to graze and return to the settlement before sundown. We accompanied livestock on their grazing circuits (n = 50) with a hand-held GPS unit (GarminTM72) to determine the route and distance they travel. We buffered each settlement with the average linear distance moved by the livestock to determine the area of impact by livestock (Riginos & Hoffman 2003). Density of livestock was computed as the total number divided by their foraging area.

Herbaceous biomass at a local scale

We set up 10 × 10-m ungulate-proof exclosures with chain-link fencing close to settlement sites (high-intensity livestock grazing n = 3 within 500 m of settlement), far from settlement sites (low-intensity livestock grazing n = 3, 500–1500 m from settlements), and in livestock- free areas (n = 4). We sampled peak above-ground biomass (AGB) just prior to the next growing season May 2006) by clipping five paired quadrats of 1 m2 inside and outside each exclosure (Beebe et al. 2002). Clipped herbaceous biomass was sorted to species and was classified as palatable and unpalatable based on chital and livestock food habits (Dave 2008) and oven dried at 60 ◦ C to constant dry weight. We analysed the herbaceous biomass data with two-way ANOVA (Zar 2005) with main effects as: (1) Livestock grazing intensity category having three treatments (close to settlement, far from settlements, and livestock-free areas) and (2) Exclosures having two treatments i.e. inside (ungrazed) and outside (grazed).

RESULTS

Effect of sympatric livestock on chital demography:comparisons at the landscape scale

Mean group size (MGS ± SE) of chital (n = 296 groups) was 7.11 ± 0.8 while typical group size (TGS ± SE) was 18.5 ± 1.7 for the entire Gir Forest. Mean group sizes were similar between livestock-free (6.73 ± 0.96) and sympatric areas (7.30 ± 1.0: t-test: t = 0.99, P = 0.34). Typical group size of chital in livestock-free areas was smaller (10.0 ± 2.0) compared with typical groups observed in areas sympatric with livestock (21.4 ± 3.78, t-test, t = 18.9, P < 0.001). Body condition of chital in livestock-free areas was significantly better (MRPP, test statistic = −14.0, P <0.001). Chital density Dˆ (±SE) in the Gir Forest was estimated at 44.8 ± 7.1 individuals km−2 . Chital density

Figure 2. The natural logarithm of chital density plotted against years (1969 and 2006) for computing the realized rate of increase for chital (Axis axis) in the Gir Forest.

in areas sympatric with livestock was 47.0 ± 9.3 indiv. km−2 and was similar to livestock-free areas (33.2 ±
6.6 chital km−2 , t-test, t = 1.39, P = 0.17). Chital densities were correlated with average rainfall with marginal statistical significance due to small sample size of four rainfall zones (Pearson's correlation coefficient, r = 0.923, P = 0.077). The fawn to doe ratio for chital in between ± areas sympatric with livestock (0.42 ± 0.043) and livestock-free areas (0.44 ± 0.036, Fisher's exact test, P = 0.554).

Growth rate and abundance of chital in relation to livestock abundance at landscape scale

The realized rate of increase (r ± SE) for chital was 0.071 ± 0.014 (P ≤ 0.001, R2 = 0.9) in the Gir Forest, with initial population density of 3.2 indiv. km−2 (1968– 1971, Joslin 1973) that increased to 44.8 indiv. km−2 in 2006 (present study) (Figure 2). The realized rate of increase for chital population did not differ between areas sympatric with livestock (0.069 ± 0.008, P = 0.003, R2 = 0.97) and livestock-free areas (0.055 ± 0.008, P = 0.02, R2 = 0.95; t-test, t = 1.33, P = 0.22). On a temporal
scale chital densities were found to increase as livestock densities decreased (Pearson's correlation coefficient r =
−0.93, P = 0.022).


Livestock density, composition and grazing impact zone at local scale

Official livestock population for the Gir Forest was reported to be 11 000 (Pathak et al. 2002). Our seasonal total counts of eight pastoral settlements yielded an estimate of 533 ± 86.9 cattle and 1747 ± 234 buffalo. On average livestock travelled a total distance (mean ± SE) of 5.8 ±


Table 1. Comparison of density (mean ± SE), mean group size (MGS) and typical group size (TGS) of chital (Axis axis) in two ecologically similar sites differing in presence of sympatric livestock in the eastern part of Gir Sanctuary.

0.22 km during their daily grazing circuit in the cold season and were observed to have an average (± SE) daily linear displacement of 1.9 ± 0.12 km from settlements. Some impact zones of two or more pastoral sites overlapped i.e. these areas were used by livestock from more than one settlements. Therefore, a common buffer of 1.9 km was created on the cluster of settlement locations to generate a polygon (9.8 ± 1.1 km2 ) to compute livestock density and their overall impact zone. The average livestock density for our study area was 31.4 livestock km−2 for the cold season of 2005–2006.

Response of chital demography and herbaceous biomass to livestock at the local scale

When we controlled for the effect of rainfall and pastoral site location, typical group size and density were significantly higher in the livestock-free area compared with the area sympatric with livestock (Table 1). However, fawn to doe ratio, mean group size and body condition did not differ between areas sympatric and free from livestock (Table 1).
Peak above-ground biomass of herbaceous vegetation increased as livestock grazing intensity decreased (1438 ± 152 kg ha−1 in areas sympatric with livestock to 3260 ± 209 kg ha−1 in areas devoid of livestock) (Figure 3). However, chital food production in moderately grazed areas (877 ± 92 kg ha−1 ) was more than in areas devoid of livestock (539 ± 167 kg ha−1 ) after short-term (1 y) grazing exclusion (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Above-ground herbaceous biomass (AGB) sampled during the month of May 2005 and 2006 at different livestock grazing intensity in the Gir Forest. The box-and-whisker plots represent the interquartile range of total herbaceous above-ground biomass (a) and herbaceous chital food biomass (b); boxes are limited by the 25th and 75th percentile, the midlines in boxes are the median values, the whiskers are mild outliers, while the severe outlier values are shown as circles.

DISCUSSION

Effect of livestock on chital at the landscape scale

Most of our predictions in support of the hypothesis that livestock detrimentally affect chital did not hold at the landscape scale. We believe that two factors were primarily responsible for non-conformity to our predictions at the landscape scale. These factors were: (1) response of chital to a precipitation gradient, as chital density was found to be correlated with rainfall and increased from east to west by a factor of 0.6; and (2) the livestock-free habitat comprising the National Park is more hilly and not the prime habitat for chital (Khan 1995), good chital habitat is found in the eastern and western parts of the Sanctuary which were also used by livestock. Many studies have explained the regulatory role of food resources in maintaining equilibrium density of ungulates (Dublin et al. 1990, Sinclair 1977, Skogland 1980). Productivity of semi-arid regions is primarily dictated by annual rainfall (Allcock & Hik 2003, Harrington et al. 1995). Ungulate populations in such regions are mainly regulated through food resource availability dictated by rainfall patterns (Illius & O'Connor 2000, Mandujano & Naranjo 2010). Chital in the semi-arid landscape of Gir likely conform to this pattern. Due to these overriding effects of habitat productivity and habitat suitability on chital, negative competitive effects of livestock on chital were likely masked (Bugmann & Weisberg 2003).

Effect of livestock on chital at the local scale

When we controlled for this masking effect of confounding factors by selecting two sites with similar rainfall and pastoral site selection factors, differing only in the presence of sympatric livestock, evidence was found in support of our competition hypothesis (Table 1). Chital density was significantly higher in livestock-free areas compared with areas with livestock. Short- to medium- term responses of average group size, body condition, and fawn to doe ratio were similar between the two sites (Table 1). The annual rainfall during 2005–2006 was exceptionally good, and we believe that these short- term response parameters were influenced by this higher food availability which reduced average competitive interactions between chital and livestock. The long-term response of depressed chital density had a substantial size effect with chital density being 60% higher in livestock free-area.


Long-term effect of livestock removal on chital at the landscape scale

Chital population of the Gir Forest was found to increase at the realized rate of 0.07 ± 0.014. Most ungulate populations have a potential rmax between 0.16 and 0.22 (Owen-Smith 2006). The realized rate of increase (r) for chital for the past 34 y was much lower than the potential rmax . This could be either due to intra- and inter-specific competition for limited resources or high rate of predation. Gir has a high density of large carnivores, with about 18 lions and 15 leopards per 100 km2 (Singh & Kamboj 1996). We failed to detect differences in the realized growth rate of chital between livestock-free areas and areas sympatric with livestock. When the central part of the Gir Forest was gazetted as a National Park, all the resident livestock herders from the National Park area were relocated outside or on the periphery of the Gir Forest. However, during the past 34 y livestock densities have also been reduced in the sanctuary part of the Gir Forest by voluntarily relocating pastoral families and their livestock outside of Gir Forest as a management practice (Pathak et al. 2002). Therefore, even though livestock were sympatric with chital in the sanctuary area their densities have been declining over the past 34 y. This, combined with better chital habitat found in the sanctuary area could be the probable reason that chital continued to increase at a similar rate between sympatric and livestock-free areas. The continued increase in the chital population in the Gir Forest for the past 34 y cannot be solely attributed to removal and reduction of livestock from the Gir Forest. As a result of a cyclone in 1983, many trees in the Gir Forest were uprooted; several of these still survive lying prostrate with their foliage within browsing reach of ungulates. This opening up of the canopy and increase in browse availability has likely increased the ungulate- carrying capacity of Gir. Besides, illegal hunting of wild ungulates has been almost eliminated in the Gir Forest by better management, protection measures, stringent law and increased awareness (Pathak et al. 2002). With a lack of past detailed information on competition with livestock, increase in forage availability, or illegal harvest rates, it is not possible to attribute the continued increase of chital to any one of these factors. It is also possible that all of the three factors may be contributing to the observed rate of increase in chital density.
A better insight is provided into the long-term effect of livestock removal by the high negative correlation (r = −0.93, P = 0.022) obtained between livestock and chital numbers in the Gir Forest. Although correlation analysis cannot be ascribed as cause and effect (Draper & Smith 1981), this result lends additional support to the competition hypothesis.


Effect of livestock removal and different grazing intensity on herbaceous vegetation

The impact of livestock on the herbaceous community is through biomass removal (Fleischner 1994) and trampling (Cumming & Cumming 2003, Hobbs & Searle 2005). Exclosure studies showed that grazing by ungulates (wild and domestic) reduced above-ground biomass substantially. Wild ungulates accounted for removal of 14.4% ± 6.9% of the standing above-ground biomass, whereas both livestock and wild ungulates removed 54.4% ± 5.0% of the standing above-ground biomass. Considering utilization by wild ungulates to be similar between livestock-free areas and areas sympatric with livestock, removal by livestock was estimated at
40.0% of the standing AGB. Livestock grazing was bound to reduce AGB and our result shows the obvious; however, does this reduction in AGB translate to reduced forage availability for chital? We find that chital food biomass is significantly reduced in the proximity of settlement sites – an area of high livestock impact. But moderately grazed areas by livestock still had good quantities of chital food available at the worst time of the year, i.e. the hot season prior to rainy season (Figure 3). When this moderately used area by livestock was protected from grazing, chital food biomass equalled or exceeded that produced in livestock-free areas – a response that is suggestive of a highly resilient system even with short- term protection from grazing. Considering the absence of any large native coarse feeder in Gir cattle and buffalo are likely fulfilling an important ecological role by grazing on coarse perennial grasses and facilitating forage availability to chital (Gwyne & Bell 1968, McNaughton
1979). Wild ungulate grazing did not compensate for the removal of livestock as AGB was substantially higher in livestock-free areas. This suggests that wild ungulates did not negatively impact livestock food resources (Young et al. 2005). Over 80% of the AGB in livestock-free areas was composed of perennial coarse grasses, which are not the preferred food of chital (Dave 2008), while in moderately grazed areas by livestock 43% of AGB was composed of chital food plants, which is indicative of facilitation by livestock. Typical group size of chital was observed to be larger in areas sympatric with livestock both at the larger landscape scale and local scale of the Gir Forest, suggestive of higher food availability for chital caused as a result of possible facilitation by livestock. Overall, our data suggest that habitat productivity and suitability were more important for chital demographic response in comparison to competition with livestock.

Livestock form a substantial part of the lion's diet (Chellam 1993, Jhala et al. 2006, Joslin 1973). Lion densities and pride sizes were observed to be larger in areas sympatric with livestock (Jhala et al. 2006). Considering these ecological roles of livestock in the Gir Forest, it may be relevant to consider management strategies that maintain low livestock densities instead of strategies that aim at total removal. However, we caution that though our data and experimental design of vegetation exclosures targeted the pinch period of the year, our work was done in years of relatively good rainfall. It is likely that in years of poor rainfall, competition between chital and livestock can become severe and could deplete chital food with serious consequences. Also, our study targeted chital, an intermediate feeder (Hofmann 1985) with the ability to be extremely selective due to morphological adaptation of mouth parts in comparison to other wild ungulates. It is possible that competition with livestock may be an important limiting factor for other wild ungulates that have similar diets to livestock (Madhusudan 2004, Mishra et al. 2004).

In conclusion, our data support the competition hypothesis with livestock depressing chital densities – a long-term response to competition. In the short term, we either found no effect of sympatric livestock or an indication of grazing facilitation. Our study highlights that interactions between native wild ungulates and livestock are complex and varied under different ecological conditions. Interactions between chital and livestock are likely driven through a dynamic mechanism of forage production and their density wherein, when forage production is low and density of livestock is high, competition is likely to be a much stronger force than facilitation (Hobbs et al. 1996). To mimic the livestock density of moderately grazed areas wherein our results suggest minimal negative impacts on chital food plants we recommend that livestock densities in Gir be reduced by half of the current stocking densities. Large ungulates (livestock) have significantly greater trampling impacts (Hobbs & Searle 2005) therefore we recommend that pastoral sites be rotated at an interval of a 3–4 y period so as to have minimal long-term trampling effects on the vegetation as observed by our exclosure studies in close proximity to pastoral settlements (where chital food plants were greatly reduced but were extremely resilient). Such management strategies would minimize the detrimental effect of livestock on wild ungulates and still be able to harness the positive role that livestock are likely to play.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Funding for the study was provided by the Wildlife Institute of India and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We thank the Chief Wildlife Warden, Gujarat; Conservator Junagadh; Deputy Conservator Gir, Director WII, Dean FWS, and K. S. Chauhan for facilitation and support. We acknowledge the sincere efforts of field assistants Bhupat, Bhola, Manu, Taj and Bikhu.


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