The big cat census
When I visited the Gir Sanctuary in Gujarat recently, my tour guide was very excited about the upcoming census of the Asiatic lion population in Gir which is the only home of the Asiatic lion outside Africa. The census exercise is conducted every five years, the last being in 2010. This year the census will be held from May 2 to 5. I was told that this time to make the census more scientific, the Gujarat Forest Department will be using global positioning system (GPS) and geographical information system (GIS) to record lion sightings. The last census result which was announced by then Chief Minister Narendra Modi on May 1, 2010 showed the lion count as 411 (97 males, 162 females and 152 cubs).
The census area will be divided into 30 zones and will have 625 counting booths and is expected to involve more than 2200 people. Instead of counting pugmarks, direct sighting method will be employed and body marks will be used to identify a lion. All sightings will be captured on camera and will be uploaded on a GPS device provided to each team. The census is done in summer to makes it easier for the sightings as due to the heat, water bodies are favourite hangouts of lion prides and the heat also restricts their movement so makes the sightings easier. The guide was definite that the lion count has increased over the last five years as many new cubs have been born since the last census.