Deer numbers drop, foresters worried
The Times of India City
AHMEDABAD: For the first time in the past decade, the ungulate (hoofed mammal) population in Gir Sanctuary has registered a decline of around 15%. This was revealed when data collected during the summer census in May was collated by forest department in an internal exercise. Worried at the decline, the forest department has decided to re-conduct the census of sambhar and other ungulates in Gir forest.
A senior forest department official said that summer census figures show that the population of ungulates in Gir had dropped from 75,000 to 65,000 - the sharpest decline in a decade.
"The department has not been able to find an explanation for the nearly 15% decline in ungulate population," said an officer who assisted in the census and enumeration of data. Another officer, however, said, "The decline in reported numbers is due to the method of enumeration used."
Chief conservator of forest, Junagadh, R L Meena said, "This is an internal count of the department. The official census is held every five years, and the same was conducted in 2015."
Meena said, "However, we are again conducting the census for a couple of species in the forest including sambhar, as there has been a sharp decline in their numbers."
A senior forest department officer in Gir said the May census figures had not been collated until now and the report was yet to be sent to the department. Usually, the department takes two counts of ungulates - one in May and the other during winter. The report is usually sent to higher officers within a fortnight.
Principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), J A Khan, said, "We are yet to receive the report as the final count has not been calculated, and hence it would be too early to comment on the decline."
However, experts feel that a decline in ungulate numbers would result in more lions moving out of the sanctuary to seek prey. The census 2015 has revealed that there were over 160-odd lions outside the protected sanctuary area. At present that number has crossed 250.
Forest officials said that around 40-odd lions had moved from Gir sanctuary due to monsoon and lack of prey.
HS Singh, a lion expert said, "I feel that the livestock population within the sanctuary is competing with the ungulate population. An increase in livestock may be related with the decline in ungulates."
"The possibility of big cats moving out in search of prey increases with a drop in the number of deer and other herbivores inside the sanctuary," Singh added.