Demand for lion shows puts big money in play
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Ahmedabad: The uproar over the suspension of two forest department staffers has brought to light the fact that illegal lion shows are rampant outside sanctuary areas. On average, 10 shows are organized every day. The business of illegal lion shows across Saurashtra region is estimated to be worth about Rs 3 crore a year, which is equivalent to about 70% of the revenue through official lion safaris.
Senior forest officials, on condition of anonymity, said, "For each show, farmers on the periphery of Gir Sanctuary charge Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 depending on the size and paying capacity of the group. If spectators want to see a lion feed on cattle, it could cost between Rs 8,000 and Rs 15,000. If someone just wants to see a lion, the price is about Rs 2,000 for a single person or between Rs 750 to Rs 1,000 per person for groups."
Another senior officer in Gandhinagar said that ever since the department got strict and stopped multiple safari vehicles converging at the site of a sighting, the lion show business has flourished. This is because barely 50% of visitors now actually get to see a lion.
Some jeep drivers and beat guards have also got involved, by joining hands with local farmers who have a lion presence in their fields.
The modus operandi is simple. The farmers provide bait every second day to make sure that the pride does not leave and the shows go on uninterrupted.
Another senior forest officer said two other untoward incidents had come to light in the last three months. In March, a forest trekker on patrol was stabbed to death by seven men, during a crackdown on an illegal lion show on the border of the Gir forest in Amreli district.
A tourist from Mumbai had alerted the Prime Minister's office, about ostensible poaching of a cub by a resident of Talala. The alert sent the forest department scurrying from pillar to post. When the Talala resident, a taxi driver, was arrested, he confessed to having made a false promise to earn some money.