Gujarat: Those harassing lions can be jailed up to 7 years
The Times Of India
GANDHINAGAR: The Gujarat government on Tuesday declared that people harassing Asiatic lions will now attract serious penal action under Section 9 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Harassment covers a wide range of actions: organizing illegal lion shows, chasing lions in vehicles, and shooting illegal videos. The government warned that those caught disturbing the lions can be imprisoned for up to seven years. The government also announced the formation of a single authority to manage the 22,000 sq km spread of lion habitat, which is currently under the control of four different authorities.
"We have directed forest officials to invoke hunting charges against those who trouble the animals," state forest minister Ganpat Vasava said.
"Hunting, according to the Act, does not mean killing alone. It applies to harassment of Schedule I animals, such as lions and tigers." Schedule I animals are given the highest protection under the Wildlife Protection Act. "Until now, we were imposing only the section pertaining to trespassing against offenders," Vasava said.
The Gujarat government faced severe criticism recently after a series of videos showing people pestering lions went viral. In one video, a lioness is shown being made to beg for chicken, which is dangled in front of it during an illegal show. Earlier, videos of youths chasing lions on speeding bikes and cars had gone viral. Facing censure from various stakeholders, chief minister Vijay Rupani on Monday held a review meeting to devise a better strategy for the conservation of lions. On Tuesday, Vasava declared a 13-point conservation plan that aims to stop human-animal conflicts that have been rising in Gir - the Asiatic lions' only abode in the world - and its surrounding areas.
The lion population in Gujarat is 523 according to Census 2015. Lion habitat is spread across 1,500 villages in Gir sanctuary in Junagadh and adjacent districts of Amreli, Bhavnagar, Gir-Somnath and Porbandar.