Monday, April 09, 2012

Fire endangers over 25 lions in Amreli grassland

Fire endangers over 25 lions in Amreli grassland
The Indian Express

As many as 28 Asiatic lions, including two one-month-old cubs, are feared to be in danger after a major fire broke out in a grassland in the periphery of Gir Wildlife Sanctuary near Krakach village in Liliya taluka of Amreli district.

The fire reported on Saturday, which is third such incident within a month in the same area, has gutted over 2,000 bigha land overnight. However, no update on the situation of the big cats was available as a field survey began only on Sunday.

"Nothing can be said about the situation of the lions," said Deputy Forest Officer J K Makwana adding, "Teams have been sent to conduct a survey and their report is awaited."

Wildlife activists, who reportedly rushed to the spot after the fire broke, have expressed fear. "We could hear roars (of lions) till early hours of Sunday. The fire was reported on Saturday afternoon and it continued till this morning. While the adult lions might have run away, the cubs are too small to run," said Manoj Joshi, a resident of Liliya and member of Gir Nature Club — the lone NGO working for protection and preservation of Asiatic lions in the region.

"This is the third fire incident in a month's time. But this time it is a major one," said GNC president Bhikhu Jethava.

Most such incidents are reported from grasslands near Krakrach, Tulshishyam, Mitiyana and Ambalia villages with the onset of summer every year. These grasslands are home to over 100 lions.

According to Jethava, frequent incidents of fire would force prides of lions living in Krakrach vidi (grassland) to find shelter elsewhere, which will only take them further away from their natural habitat in GWS. "Dispersion due to lack of space and food has brought them all the way to Krakrach, and fire incidents will push them further away," he added.

Makawana, meanwhile, blamed local farmers for the recent incidents. "Farmers often set on fire unwanted grass (in their fields) and this fire spreads to the vidi," he said.

The official added the department would now launch an awareness drive for the farmers on the issues and how to avoid such incidents.

But farmers point the fingers at the department, which maintains these grasslands. They allege that sometimes department staffers set these grasslands on fire to suppress the figures of sold grass.

Activists, on the other hand, alleged that considering such incidents are reported every year, they had written to the forest department in February to take some preventive measures, but in vain.

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