Monday, September 15, 2014

Lion visits common in six out of 10 Gir villages

Lion visits common in six out of 10 Gir villages
The Times of India

Lion visits are a regular feature in six out of 10 villages in the Gir region spread out in three districts of Saurashtra - Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar.

An internal survey by the Gir East and Gir West divisions of the forest department reveals that 84% villages in Junagadh, 70% in Amreli and 31% in Bhavangar have reported sightings of lions. The data is an important indicator of the wide area that the lions cover when they venture out of Gir Sanctuary.

Earlier, it was estimated that the big cats strayed in 20,000 sq km area. Forest officials said the survey was part of the long-term lion conservation project of the department.

Before bifurcation of some talukas, the three districts had a total of 2,382 villages. Out of these, lion presence was noticed in 1,367 villages (that is 57.38% of the total).

Officials said that analysis of sightings, local inputs, and information about the killing of cattle and hoved animals (ungulates) like chittal, sambhar and even neelgai that are found in the wild had led the department to identify these villages as those that were visited by the lions.

The survey report further says that these are villages where lions have been spotted either every alternate day or once in three days. The data on animals killed by the big cats reveals that there are about 1,500 villages in Saurashtra where lions go to kill domestic as well as herbivorous animals. But in 133 of these villages, the raids were not frequent.

They said that, earlier, lions had entered Bhavnagar district only in the late 2000s. Later, however, in less than a decade, the lion territory in Bhavnagar expanded in around 31% of the villages. Around 258 villages in the district have reported lion sightings.

Experts say the increased number of lions is a result of the conversation efforts put in by the state government. The big cats are now forced to venture out because the Gir National Park and Gir Sanctuary together are unable to house the growing population. Their number has grown consistently -284 in 1990; 304 in1995; 327 in 2000; 359 in 2005; and 411 in 2010. The next lion census is due in May 2015.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Wild grazers make up 76.4% of lion prey in Gir

Wild grazers make up 76.4% of lion prey in Gir
The Economic Times

: The lions of Gir are more expert hunters than cattle lifters. A study by experts revealed that lions within the sanctuary hunt ungulates - chital, sambar, nilgai - as well as wild pig, more than domesticated animals.

The study 'Living with Lions: The Economics of Coexistence in the Gir Forests, India,' by Wildlife Institute of India experts Kausik Banerjee, Yadavendradev Jhala, Kartikeya Chauhan and Chittranjan Dave revealed that in the Gir sanctuary, about 76.4% of the bigcats' food was chital, sambar, nilgai and wild pig, while the remaining 23.6% was domestic livestock from within the sanctuary.

The scat analysis of lions living in the Gir Sanctuary brought out this fact. The study, also found that of the 23.6% of domestic animals, buffaloes accounted for 13.7% and cattle for 7.8%. The remainder was of other domesticated animals. The study recorded a total of 308 livestock mortalities from six nesses, of which 58.4% was due to lion predation, 3.2% from predation by leopards and 38.4% from other natural causes.

The study reveals that of the domesticated animal killed by lions, 69.4% was cattle, followed by buffaloes (29.4%) and camels (1.2%).

The study also brought out an increasing fact. Maldharis have also learnt to save their buffaloes, which are more expensive than cattle.

"Maldhari grazing herds were always observed to have a few non-productive cattle. Thus, when lions attack, they are more likely to kill these vulnerable cattle. Moreover, maldhari herdsmen arrange their herds with cattle leading, buffaloes in the middle and juvenile animals trailing," stated the study.

"We speculate that the current traditional mechanism of warding off lion predation by corralling livestock at night and having a mixed grazing herd composition being always accompanied by expert herdsmen minimized risks and economic losses to lion predation. In Gir, since livestock are reared only for dairy products and are not eaten by maldharis, there is a large cohort of old and weak cattle in which natural mortality is high and these carcasses are available to lions for scavenging," the study observed.

Crocodiles feast on carcass of Asiatic lion

Crocodiles feast on carcass of Asiatic lion
The Indian Express

Crocodiles feasted on the carcass of a male Asiatic lion which was allegedly killed in a fight with another lion and was washed away into Madhuvanti dam on the borders of Gir West division in Junagadh district on Sunday.

After an operation, the forest department officials pulled out the carcass from water for ascertaining the reason of the death later in the day.

Forest officers rushed to the dam site in the afternoon after receiving information that the carcass of a male lion, around five to nine years in age, was floating in the dam in Mendarda taluka of Junagadh.

"The carcass was floating in the mouth of a stream that feeds the dam. However, the operation to fish out the carcass was fraught with danger as four crocodiles were feasting on the dead lion. Our rescuers took risk, swam into water for some distance and eventually secured the carcass by throwing a rope around the neck of the lion," deputy conservator of forest of Gir West, Kasuladev Ramesh told The Indian Express.

"A post mortem revealed that the lion had been killed by another lion in an in-fight. We believe the wild cat was killed between 48 hours and 24 hours ago," Ramesh added.

Reasons why India's biodiversity is at risk

Reasons why India's biodiversity is at risk
BBC News

The number of tigers in India has risen in recent years, official figures show
Continue reading the main story

HOME to about a tenth of the world's known plant and animal species, India is a global biodiversity hot spot.

The country also has a bank of 50,000 varieties of rice, a grain that feeds about half of the world's population. Mangoes, tea, sorghum, millets and pulses grow freely on its lands.

But with 18% of the world's population crammed into just 2.4% of the global landmass, India's biodiversity is under pressure, something which the 12,000 delegates from 190 countries attending the UN meeting on biodiversity in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad will be aware about.

Here are some indicators of how India's biodiversity is under threat:

Four animals - the cheetah, Lesser Indian Rhinoceros, Pink-headed duck, and the Himalayan Mountain Quail - have become extinct in the last century.

A total of 929 animal species are threatened today, up from 648 in 2004, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). India's rank in the global "shame list" of nations struggling to protect its species diversity has slid to seven, next to China.

Just 1% of India's 8,000km- (4,970-mile)-long coastline is protected from badly planned and illegal development. Coral reefs and FISHare threatened by development projects like ports and power plants.

'Wide gap'

To be sure, India has explored and mapped the flora and fauna of only around 70% of its area, documenting some 150,000 plants and animals. Even the government admits there is a "wide gap" in mapping all species.

So the jury is still out on the total number of new and dying species. But in a country which spends about $2bn (£1.25bn) on biodiversity, there are some good tidings as well:

The Arunachal macaque was a surprise to science

Arunachal macaque a new species of monkey, was discovered in the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh in 2005.

The Zoological Survey of India REPORTED there were 193 species of animals in India in 2011.

The number of tigers has risen to 1,706 from 1,411 in 2006.

Some of the species are no longer endangered - this week, the IUCN, removed the Lion-tailed macaquefrom its list of 25 most endangered primates as its numbers have improved.

India's Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan says India "speaks from a position of strength as we need to balance economic development, poverty alleviation and protection of biodiversity".

But India needs to do a lot more. Forest cover is shrinking - authorities are talking about raising it to 33% from the existing 23%. India continues to struggle to protect the tiger, lion, elephant and rhino. And yes, it needs to complete the mapping of its biodiversity.

Lion cubs make first appearance

Lion cubs make first appearance
BBC News

Rare lion cubs unveiled at zoo

A pair of rare Asian lion cubs have made their first public appearance at LONDON Zoo.

The 10-week-olds took their first steps in their new enclosure under the WATCHFUL eye of their mother Abi, who was also born at the zoo.

The species (Panthera leo persica) is listed as Endangered, with fewer than an estimated 350 animals remaining in the wild in North-West India.

It is the first time in a decade that Asian lions have been born at the zoo.

The cubs' father, Lucifer - whose name was inspired by his stud-book number (666) - will be reintroduced to the enclosure on Friday.

Length: male 1.7-2.5m; female 1.4-1.75m
Weight: male 150-250kg; female 120-180kg
Gestation period: 3.5 months
Lifespan: 16-18 years in the wild; about 24 years in captivity
Once widespread across SW Asia, now restricted to Gir Forest, India
Listed as endangered, about 350 individuals remain in the wild
(Source: IUCN/Asiatic Lion Information Centre)

"We are incredibly proud," David Field, zoological director for the Zoological Society of LONDON(ZSL) told BBC News.

"Lucifer came to join us a few years ago, but he was quite a young lad... so we had to wait for him to mature.

"But the results today are fantastic. There are about 350 Asian lion left in the wild, which may not seem too bad but they are only found in a tiny piece of forest in India."

Mr Field added that the lions' habitat was surrounded by expanding human settlements, which made captive breeding essential for the long-term survival of the species.

Unlike African lions, Asian lions are solitary mammals and only come together in order to mate.

In the wild, the main threats facing the lions are habitat loss and hunting.

Although their main prey is wild deer, there have been REPORTS of them attacking livestock, which brings them into direct conflict with villagers.

In the wild, the main threats facing the lions are habitat loss and hunting.

The new cubs are the latest success for the European Breeding Programme for lions, of which ZSL is a member.

Asiatic lions SAVED from extinction at Twycross Zoo

Asiatic lions SAVED from extinction at Twycross Zoo
BBC News

Follow Kamal the Asiatic lion's journey as he sets off to find LOVE in Bristol

Asiatic lions are critically endangered and have now become one of the rarest animals in the world.

BBC Inside Out finds out how a 'dating agency' for lions, adopted by Twycross Zoo is helping to SAVE the endangered animals from extinction.

This type of breeding programme involves thousands of exotic animals being moved by road, rail and air across the UK.

BBC's Mike Dilger follows some lions from India moving from Twycross Zoo.

Asiatic lions are the cousin of its African relative and one of the rarest animals in the world. They are so uncommon it was thought there were just a dozen left in the wild.

Twycross Zoo are part of a breeding programme to protect the Asiatic lions

Kamal was one of Twycross Zoo's star attractions, before he was moved a hundred miles down the road to Bristol Zoo to meet his BLIND date Moti.

In an effort to boost the number of Asiatic lions, it is hoped that moving the big cats would encourage the lions to meet new partners and find lion LOVE.

Unfortunately, these breeding programmes are not always successful but they do help to bring species back from the brink of extinction as is the case with the Asiatic Lion.

India lion cub leads guard to its mother's corpse

India lion cub leads guard to its mother's corpse
BBC News

Wildlife officials say cubs are dependent on their mothers for survival until the age of two-and-a-half to three years
Continue reading the main story

A lion cub has led forest rangers to its mother's corpse in an Indian sanctuary, an act described by officials as very unusual behaviour.

A forest guard, who saw the cub hiding in the bushes, followed it and went on to discover the body on a nearby hill.

The cub then guarded his mother until the ranger returned with forest and police officials to remove the carcass.

A post-mortem suggests the lioness died in a fight with other animals, possibly a herd of WATER buffalo.

Deputy Conservator of Forests in Gir, Anshuman Sharma, said the cub's behaviour was "rare" and "very peculiar" - something he had not encountered in his many years of WATCHING lions.

Gir in Gujarat state is HOME to Asiatic lions and, according to the last census done in 2010, there are 411 lions in the sanctuary.

"On Saturday afternoon, I was patrolling the Tulsi-Shyam range of the sanctuary when I saw a cub hiding in the bushes," forest guard Rana Mori told the BBC.

Such small cubs are never found alone, they are generally accompanied by their mother and Mr Mori says he started looking for the lioness.

"I followed the cub which led me to its mother's body lying on a small hillock. The mother was called Rupa [the beautiful one]. It initially looked like she was sleeping, but when it didn't move, I prodded it with my stick. That's when I discovered that the lioness was dead," he said.

When Mr Mori returned with a team of officials to remove the carcass, they found the cub still sitting near the body.

The lioness, who was about 11 years old, had broken ribs and internal injuries and died from a haemorrhage, Mr Sharma said.

Lion expert Yadvendra Dev Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India told the BBC that he had never heard of a similar incident involving a lion cub.

But he says that in Gir there has been very little conflict with humans and "lions generally know their individual guards well".

Mr Sharma says lions are known for their social behaviour: "They are not like dogs, they won't shake paws or wag tails, but we believe they recognise guards they see every day."

Wildlife officials say cubs are totally dependent on their mothers for survival until the age of two-and-a-half to three years.

The cub, only 15 months old, is now under the constant observation of forest officials.

"Its mother, Rupa, seemed to be a loner who lived and hunted alone, But now that the lioness is gone, we expect the cub to join another group, or another lioness may start looking after it," Mr Sharma said.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why dozens of India's Asiatic lions are dying

Why dozens of India's Asiatic lions are dying
The Times of India

Gujarat government's last lion census in 2010 pegs their numbers at 411
Continue reading the main story

Is the last abode of the Asiatic lion turning into a death trap for the big cat?

Gir in India's Gujarat state is home to Asiatic lions and has seen 256 lions dying in the past five years.

Experts say their population is at risk with the big cats making new homes in human settlements.

Once widespread in Gujarat, the lion population shrank to a mere dozen in the early 20th Century, mainly due to hunting and drought.

But Nawab Mahabat Khanji of then Junagadh state, an animal lover who kept 300 dogs as pets, banned lion hunting, and was able to preserve the big cat.

However, in the last century as the lion population started soaring, the 1,400 sq km (540 sq miles) Gir sanctuary in Junagadh state began to be too small for the animals.

Today, lions are found across the 20,000 sq km area of the Saurashtra region - which includes Junagadh and 10 other districts - and are routinely spotted on private farms and near village homes.

Environmentalist Takhubhai Sansur says in the last three months alone, about 20 lions have been run over by speeding trucks and trains.

"Lion numbers have increased, but the challenge is their safety. About 40% of the total lion population now lives outside the forest area. Open wells and live wires on farms, poachers and passing trains and trucks have turned this region into a death field for the Asiatic lion," he says.

'Under control'

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had in 2000 added the Asiatic lion to the list of critically endangered species.

In 2005, when the lion population started swelling and crossed 250, it was removed from the list. Gujarat government's last lion census in 2010 pegs their numbers at 411.

Gir forest official Sandeep Kumar does not see the many deaths as a major threat to the species.

"Only 20% are accidental deaths, which is a cause for concern but the situation is under control. Lions are territorial animals and they live in prides. They are moving out as a male needs an area of 50 sq km and a female needs 26 sq km."

Increasingly, big cats are found straying outside of the forest area, appearing on farms and near homes

Mr Kumar says the government is now creating alternative habitats in Saurashtra to give more space to the big cat. Officials have also asked the railways to reduce train speed in lion-dominated areas to avoid running them over.

The Gujarat government annually spends 500m rupees ($8.3m; £5m) on wildlife - half of it on the big cat.

But critics say the amount is less than 5% of what is spent on promoting tourism, for which lions are the biggest draw. They also accuse the government of not being honest about the reason behind the lions' deaths.

"The deaths are alarming and that's the reason the government continues to hide the autopsy reports. Life of big cats outside of Gir is at great risk," says wildlife activist Harish Joshi.

Wildlife scientist Ravi Chellam, who has been working with lions for the past three decades, believes India's lion population is now at risk.

'Playing politics'

In the 1990s, in a study for the Wildlife Institute of India he suggested that a few lions should be shifted outside Gujarat to save the species.

"An epidemic in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania in 1994 killed over 1,000 lions in a few days. Something of that sort can't be ruled out in Saurashtra, as a sizeable population lives outside the forest and is exposed to infections.

"Indian courts and other experts have agreed on translocation, but Gujarat government is not comfortable with the idea," says Mr Chellam, who is part of a panel appointed after a Supreme Court order to oversee the translocation.

Activists accuse the state government of "playing politics" over lions.

The Gujarat government, under then chief minister Narendra Modi who is now prime minister, fought long court battles to prevent the lions being moved to the Kuno Palpur Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh in central India.

Open wells on farms often turn into death traps for lions who fall into them

For people of Saurashtra, lions are a symbol of pride and many have adopted second names like Sinh and Savaj, which mean lion in Gujarati.

"Mr Modi exploited the translocation issue for votes in Gujarat. But those who love lions want it to be safe and would never object to translocation. After all, they are not state property," says wildlife activist Bhikhabhai Jethava.

"The rampant illegal sand and limestone mining in the region have dried the rivers and that's the reason lions are migrating to coastal areas as far as 300km [186 miles] from the forest area," he adds.

Activists are also worried over the increasing man-animal conflict in the region - in the past two years, lions have killed 14 people and wounded 114 others. And two farmers have been arrested for killing lions who strayed into their fields.

The bulk of the government budget for the big cat today is spent on compensating farmers whose cattle have been killed by lions and on removing the big cats from farms. Last year, lions killed 600 cattle and 500 operations were carried out to relocated the big cats.

Gir forest official Anshuman Sharma says they now have to provide security to farmers to harvest crops as they fear prowling lions and leopards.

"Wildlife management has now become more of human management. We have to work round the clock to ensure human life doesn't get affected as it's only due to the local people here that the lion population has survived," Mr Sharma says.

State forest officials say lions can be safe only in Gujarat, a view the state government has been pushing.

RL Meena, chief conservator of forests, rubbishes suggestions that the lion may become extinct in Gir.

"There has been no incident ever when a local has knowingly killed a lion," he says.

"People are mostly vegetarian here so there is no dearth of bush meat for the big cat."

The big question, however, still remains - are India's lions really safe?

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Cricketer adopts lion

Cricketer adopts lion
Deccan Herald

International cricketer and captain of the Karnataka Ranji team, 'Davangere Express' Vinay Kumar, has adopted Darshan, a male African lion at the Mysore Zoo for one year from August 31, 2014 to August 30, 2015, by making a payment of Rs 1 lakh.

Executive Director of Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, B P Ravi, said the 'Adoption of Animals' scheme had received good response during the last week of August and the first week of September. Anil Kumble had adopted Shankara, an Asiatic lion, for the past two years. Darshan, aged about nine, was born in the zoo. Mysore Zoo has housed a pair of Asiatic lions, Shankara and Gowri, and a pair of African lions, Darshan and Rakshitha.

A sum of Rs 19,12,893 has been received towards the 'Adoption of Animals' scheme this year till September 4, compared with Rs 18,78,500 last year, till August 31.

Adult Gir lioness dies after being hit by train

Adult Gir lioness dies after being hit by train
The Economic Times

A six-year-old adult lioness died after it was hit by a speeding passenger train passing just five km outside the Gir Sanctuary. This was the seventh lion death this year due to train. Earlier, six were along the Rajula track which is constructed especially for the movement of goods from Pipavav Port.

Officials said that the accident on Tuesday was by a passenger train passing from Veraval and Delwada. The incident took place at around 7.10 in the night when the train had crossed the Kantheria station. The meter gauge train which was outside the sanctuary was moving at a speed when the driver spotted the lioness crossing the track. He immediately tried to apply the brakes but the lioness was hit by then.

''The passengers and the driver removed the lioness away from the track and informed the forest staff,'' said R Meena, chief conservator of forest.

He said that this was the train which was moving from Veraval and never entered the sanctuary and was reaching Delwada. He said that since the train did not pass through the sanctuary there was no speed restrictions.

Kasuladev Ramesh, deputy conservator of forest, Gir west said that the incident took place at a curve which was near a level-crossing. He said that the driver even tried to apply brakes but he could not save the lioness.

Earlier, after the Rajula incident, the forest department had held a meeting with the railway authorities and had decided to have barricades and also reduce the speed of the train in the area which had thick lion population.

Another lion run over by train in Gujarat sanctuary

Another lion run over by train in Gujarat sanctuary
Hindustan Times

A six-year-old Asiatic lioness was mowed down by a train near the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat's Junagadh district, a forest official said on Wednesday.

The region has seen several such incidents and this year till June, half a dozen big cats have been killed, prompting authorities to urge the Railways to ensure trains runs slower while passing through the area.

The latest incident took place on Tuesday evening when the feline was run over by Veraval-Delvada passenger train at Jamvala village of Una taluka in the district, he said.

"On seeing the lioness on the track, the train driver applied brakes, but could not save her as she was near the loop of the railway track," K Ramesh, deputy conservator of forest, western Gir Lion National Sanctuary area, told PTI.

The forest team patrolling in the area was rushed to the spot, he said, adding that they have recorded the statement of the driver, co-driver and guard of the train in connection with the accident.

There were two lionesses roaming on the railway track. While one of them managed to jump away, another got trapped near a loop on the track, he said.

During interrogation, the train driver said he could not see lioness due to thick vegetation on side of the railway track, Ramesh said.

The accident site is a revenue area located about one km away from the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, housing 411 Asiatic lions, as per a 2010 census, he said.

"We will be talking to concerned railway authorities to discuss ways to reduce the speed limit of trains on this stretch," he added.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Gujarat's lion plan may get central govt's nod

Gujarat's lion plan may get central govt's nod
The Times of India

Gujarat government may soon get central assistance for the conservation of lions in Gir. The state government had recently submitted a lion conservation proposal of Rs 862.34 crore, which includes Rs 262.34 crore for 'Long-term Conservation of Asiatic Lion Plan' and Rs 600 crore for a ring road.

State forest and environment minister Ganpat Vasava said, "We have got a very positive response to the proposals. The Union environment and forests minister has agreed in principle to our proposals. The issue was discussed by the CM with the PM and the Union environment minister during the CM's recent visit to New Delhi. We hope to get the final clearance soon.''

Earlier, the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) of the UPA government had given in-principle nod to the Rs 262.43 conservation project. But the Planning Commission later downsized the plan to Rs 150 crore and asked the state government to send a fresh proposal to the Centre. While the conservation plan never took off, the Gir ring road proposal was rejected altogether.

The Rs 862.34 crore proposal was first submitted to the deputy inspector general (DIG) of forests (wildlife) in the MoEF in 2009.

Recently, the state government forwarded both the proposal to the Centre again. The key components of the conservation plan are to relocate the maldharis from areas which would later be declared as sanctuary at a cost of Rs 97.50 crore, and construction of ring road to restrict the movement of vehicles at a cost of Rs 600 crore.

The main objective of the proposal is conservation of Asiatic lions and their associate biota in the Greater Gir region, including the Gir Sanctuary and National Park. The other components of the plan are habitat improvement (Rs 15 crore), wildlife protection (Rs 30 crore), veterinary care, rescue and conflict management (Rs 7.50 crore), eco-development, awareness, participation and eco-tourism.

The ring road project aims at construction of a road around the Gir Protected Area System (Gir National Park and Gir, Pania, Mitiyala and Girnar Sanctuary) at a cost of Rs 600 crore.

Now the state government has forwarded both the proposals to the Centre again and also got positive response from the MoEF.

State forest and environment minister Ganpat Vasava said, "We have recently submitted the with a fresh proposal to the Government of India and got a very positive response. The environment and forest minister has agreed in principle to our proposals. Both the issues were discussed by the CM with PM and the Union minister during CM's recent Delhi visit. We hope to get the final clearance soon.''

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