Thursday, March 15, 2012

Illegal lion shows a roaring business in Gir sanctuary

Illegal lion shows a roaring business in Gir sanctuary
Times of India

Illegal lion shows continue in the outskirts of Gir sanctuary. Despite the forest department's efforts to curb this illicit trend that has heckled animal rights activists to no end, the practice of entertaining tourists by offering buffalos as bait for the Asiatic lions continues undeterred.

The modus operandi of the illegal lion show organizers is simple: An old and weak buffalo is tied in any farmland, close to the abode of lions. Later, as the sun sets the lions move out in search of food. As lions feed on the buffalo, the tourists who are present begin clicking photographs.

A senior officer said that on several occasions some of forest beat guards have also been found to be involved in such shows. Beat guards who are working in the area act as informers to various hotels in the region which promise 100% lion-sighting to tourists.

A senior forest officer said that there are some hotels and resorts in Dhari region that have been attracting tourists in this fashion. Dhari, said the sources, is not in the tourism circuit of Gir. Earlier, for lion sighting one had to drive around a long way to reach Sasan or Devaliya which are the official tourism sites within the sanctuary. However now, the illegal shows have begun drawing tourists to places which are on the outskirts of the sanctuary.

In the past, relatives of forest officials were found to have been involved in such illegal shows, said the officials. The sources said that the area near Dhari was notorious for such shows as lions often pass through, while moving out of the sanctuary towards Bhavnagar. The area of Dhari and Amreli forms the natural corridor.

Not just Amreli, but near Sasan too one could earlier find such illegal lions shows in Babra Virdi area towards the tourism zone.

Those organizing the show mint money. First, the show-organizer collects around Rs 5,000-10,000 from the tourists for a glimpse of lions eating the bait. Later, the same buffalo would be shown to the authorities as a productive animal which had been preyed upon by a lion. Proving this would entitle the buffalo owner to get a compensation ranging from Rs 8,000-10,000 from the forest department.

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