Monday, April 02, 2012

Growing population: Leopards struggle in lions’ den, prowl outside Gir

Growing population: Leopards struggle in lions' den, prowl outside Gir
The Indian Express

Fight for space and food in the only abode of Asiatic Lion is forcing leopards to move outside the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary (GWS), which has led to more man-animal conflicts of late.

In the last 15 days, at least five children have fallen prey to the big cat while 13 persons have been attacked by the beast over the last one year in the coastal areas of Junagadh and Amreli districts, located in the periphery of the sanctuary.

According to the forest department, three leopards have been captured in the last 15 days from outskirts of villages in Veraval taluka of Junagadh.

Top forest officials, who came running to examine the sites of recent attacks, said the department is mulling over some population control measures for leopards, as their number is rapidly increasing both at GWS and Sakkarbaug Zoo.

The zoo, one of the oldest in India, is basically a lion breeding centre, but it is packed with man-eater leopards, which are now considered too dangerous to be released in the forest.

In fact, officials said, leopard population is increasing as fast as that of Asiatic lions.

As per the 2011 Census, the population of leopards in the sanctuary — spread over 1,412 sq km in Junagadh — touched the mark of 450, almost same as that of Asiatic lions. And nearly 170 of them have dispersed to peripheral areas on the coastline. This has become a cause of concern for humans, especially labourers working in mines and sugarcane fields in Veraval and Kodinar talukas.

Officials say that shrinking natural habitat coupled with increasing lion and leopard population has led to dispersion of these two big cats outside forest areas. They generally take shelter in mango and sugarcane fields for days.

Leopard, which is an opportunistic hunter, prefers to stay in the revenue areas, which increases the chances of conflict with humans, they said.

"All the children who have fallen prey (to leopards) in the last couple of days are of labourers working in agricultural fields or mines," said Principal Conservator of Forest K Gohel. Forest teams led by Gohel asked labourers to take precautions like avoiding sleeping in the open. They were specifically asked not to eat and throw non-vegetarian cooked food in the open.

The incidents have led to changes in the lifestyle in the coastal belts of Veraval, from where all the recent incidents were reported. Labourers no longer work after sunset and prefer to work only in groups during the day. "Parents now accompany their children on their way to school and also while returning home. Children are no longer allowed to play in the fields," said Umeshsing, a labourer.  

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