Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Leave the lions alone or get thrashed

Leave the lions alone or get thrashed
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

Respect the king, or get beaten up. This simple rule is one of the key reasons why the Asiatic lion is prospering in its last home in the world-the Gir sanctuary. In the last one year, there have been half a dozen instances where villagers, living in and around the sanctuary, have thrashed up tourists who harassed the king of the jungle.

On Sunday, four youth from Bhavnagar drove near to a mating lion couple in Liliya, which has 28 lions. Safe in the SUV, they thought they would get away with anything until the villagers rounded them up.

"These youth disturbed a mating pair. Seeing the car, the cats ran away from the area. We saw this and when they came out of the area, we pulled them out of the car," said a resident of a nearby village. The youth were let off with a warning.

The number of lions has risen steadily over the years in Gujarat-from just 13 in 1900s to 178 in 1960 to 411 today. "The bonding between the villagers and the lions is very strong. People here have even sacrificed their cattle for the lions," said Mahendrasinh Khuman, a resident of Kankraj village.

Only in March, a local villager was threatened with social boycott by his own people when his relatives got too close to some lions in a field. The guests wanted better photographs of the cats, but this enraged the villagers. "We prefer visitors maintain a distance of at least 300m from the lions," a villager said. "They should be ready for a thrashing if they get up close and personal."

A tourism campaign coupled with under-prepared forest department is leading to such a situation, say villagers. "The area has just one beat guard and a forester manning 28 lions. These lions moved out of the sanctuary in 2000 and have made this area as their permanent home," said Manoj Joshi, president of the Paryavaran Trust. Sunday's incident was the fifth instance of villagers having to intervene to stop tourists harassing lions.

Some villagers and NGOs have made a representation before the district collector demanding more guards.

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