Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Living with Lions (Asiatic Lions): Culture and Policy

Monday, May 10, 2004, 12:30 PM


Dr. Ravi Chellam is the world’s foremost expert on the Asiatic Lion, once widespread and now restricted to a few hundred individuals in western India. He has been studying wildlife and working for its conservation in India since the early 1980s. He studied the endangered Asiatic Lions for his Ph.D., conducting field research for more than four years beginning in 1986. He has since retained an abiding interest in the ecology of these highly endangered animals and also in their conservation - both in the Gir Forests and in western India - as well as by translocation to establish a second free ranging population of lions in India. He is currently supervising students researching lions and leopards.


Dr. Chellam has been with the Wildlife Institute of India since 1985 and has been on secondment to the United Nations Development Programme in New Delhi since 2002, where he is managing biodiversity projects in the Sustainable Environment and Energy Division. He has inspired numerous Indians to take up wildlife research as a profession and also raised public support for the conservation effort both within and outside India. He helped guide the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan for India, an intensely participative process over three years. He serves on the Editorial Board of Conservation and Society, a recently launched a journal with the objective of encouraging and showcasing inter-disciplinary work in the field of conservation. In addition to his work on lions and lepards, Dr. Chellam has studied the ecology of reptiles, amphibians and small mammals. His lion research is described in detail in David Quammen’s latest book, Monster of God.




Illahee has hosted several authors, and numerous scientists, but last week’s event was unusual in that one of the finest environmental writers we know, David Quammen, introduced and conversed with the wildlife biologist, Dr. Ravi Chellam, who inspired, and is featured in, his latest book, Monster of God. 


Their relationship started off inauspiciously, when Quammen contacted Dr. Chellam by phone, and after exchanging information was abruptly admonished, “Good God man, I can practically hear the money flowing through the phone line! Haven’t you ever heard of the internet?”  Click.


It took a while, but Quammen is now fairly adept at using email.  Presumably this new skill has come in handy as he stitched together a meditation on the role of large “man-eating” predators around the world, visiting with brown bear experts in Romania, salt water crocodile aficionados in India and northern Australia, Amur tiger biologists in far eastern Russia, and Dr. Chellam and his lions in western India. 


Along the way we get a thoughtful review of humans’ relation to fearsome predators, from the pelt counting of ancient Mediterranean monarchs to the role that man-eating monsters have played in myth and religion: Gilgamesh, the Leviathan, St George’s dragon, and so on. 


But Quammen’s narrative really starts with a city boy from Bombay, well on the way to a prominent business career, who takes break to study at the Wildlife Institute of India.  Among his first assignments from the boss:  go check out the lions in the Gir Forest Preserve in western India. 


This is where Dr. Chellam steps in and recounts his story.  Chellam is a keen intellect and has a nose for the bottom line, so his first instinct was to make sure he had a reasonable study subject.  Were there enough lions to study and could they be observed frequently enough for him to collect meaningful data?  His first week or so looking for lions was not reassuring.  He found only scat, pug marks and killed prey.  When, at the end of his first week in Gir, he finally saw his first lions, they wandered to within 30 meters of him.  Now he was reassured that he had a study subject, but a bit nervous about the casual nonchalance of these big beasts. 


Dr. Chellam began by introducing us to his lions with a series of slides: males, females, subadults, lying in dry grass, walking along pathways or roads, near water, on a kill.  The audience assumed these shots were taken with a telephoto lens until they noticed Dr. Chellam’s shadow in several of the photos, which would put him 10 to 20 meters from an animal that could kill him in a few seconds if it wanted to. 


With little comment on this unsettling proximity, Dr. Chellam went on to describe these lions’ habitat, the 1400 square kilometer (a little larger than Multnomah County) Gir Forest Preserve, a scrubby tropical teak woodland, dry for much of the year, with virtually all of its 20 to 40 inches of rain coming during a three month monsoon season, when according to Chellam “you can literally see the grass growing.” 


“Forest Preserve” is a little misleading.  Livestock, mainly water buffalo, has been grazed in the forest for centuries.  And lions have been there even longer, with their population at one time dipping to a few dozen at best (presently there are somewhat more than 300). 


A census in the late 1970s showed that only 6000 wild deer were available to the 200 or so lions.  Not a recipe for long-term stability.  So the Gujarat Forest Department bought out and relocated many of the resident Maldhari herders.  The result: wild deer went from 6000 to 150,000 in fifteen years, and the lions’ diet went from 75% livestock to 65-70% wild species. 


A few hundred Maldhari herders remain in the Gir forest, typically living with their herds within a thorny enclosure called a “ness” from which they venture each day looking for forage and water.  This strategy helps keep lions focused on the more available deer population. 


Lions can eat a lot of meat quickly.  An adult can gorge on 50 to 60 kg at a feeding and then not eat for almost two weeks.  If they don’t completely strip a deer or water buffalo after a kill, they’ll drag it off into a bush for feeding later.


Males and females are not found together very often in Gir.  They mate and then go their separate ways.  Males do however form coalitions.  A typical group of males has a home range of 100 to 140 square kilometers.  A typical female group takes 40 to 80 square kilometers.  Unlike African lions, males in Gir can actually hunt because the denser vegetation provides them camouflage.  Also, the chital deer in the Gir forest are so small that everyone, males and females, has to hunt.  Males tend to be the ones to take livestock, where as females won't take that risk.


One of the main thrusts of understanding the biology of the Gir lions is to find a suitable location to introduce a second population, so that there is a back-up should anything (such as disease) befall the Gir lions.  Dr. Chellam has found a promising location in the Kuno forest about 1000 km away.


But he has run into two problems.  Herders and farmers in Kuno are not thrilled about having a livestock- and human-eating predator introduced (they feel they’ve got all they can handle with the resident tigers).  And surprisingly, the Maldhari aren’t too keen to share “their” lions, which they are now proud of.  The lions make their corner of India unique.  On a more self-interested level, they figure as long as the lions are restricted to the Gir Forest, it will survive as a preserve and their status quo as herders will be preserved.  In short, they have a good deal and they don’t want to jeopardize it.  A third problem may be that there are tigers in Kuno, but Dr. Chellam believes the tigers and lions “will figure it out.”


Toward the end of his talk, Dr. Chellam showed a slide of his first photograph of a lion, which is special to him.  It was during his first trip to Gir, and when a group of four lions came within 15 meters of him and his guide, a young boy, he was unsure what to do.  The boy said, “We should just stay here and watch them.”  The lions wandered past unconcerned, but Chellam was so unnerved, he forgot to photograph them until the last one was almost out of sight. 


In his four seasons in the field he has had hundreds of encounters with lions, has been charged dozens of times, has really only been seriously threatened once, and has learned to negotiate such a close approach to these lions that the click of his camera shutter sometimes startles them.


Dr. Chellam’s final slide showed two lions ambling down a forest road with a public bus kicking up dust on a few dozen meters beyond.  The massage: here in the Gir Forest Preserve lions and people have reached some kind of accommodation.  For the Maldharis, lions actually protect the status quo, so a few livestock lost to these predators is the price they pay. 


Among the many questions:


Q: Is poaching a problem?

A: No, it is very rare.


Q: How will the Maldhari adapt to modernization?

A: We don’t know but it is happening already, with motorcycles replacing camels, and many children going off to school because the opportunity for herding is limited.  We know this: if the Maldharis are eliminated from Gir there will be big changes in the ecosystem.  We would like to reduce the daily incursion of livestock from outside the preserve, but we have to do this slowly because lions still depend on livestock for 30 to 35 percent of their diet.


Q: Why don’t Gir lions attack?

A: They do.  There are about 12 to 15 attacks and one death per year.  Eighty percent of the attacks happen outside the forest.  (Lions living outside the preserve are much more dangerous.) The circumstance of an attack usually follows one of four patterns:

The lion finds itself surrounded by people.

The lion takes a livestock animal and a herder attempts to run the lion off.

The lion jumps over a ness and in the ensuing chaos a person is attacked.

A lion directly attacks a person, usually asleep.


Dr. Chellam has noted that lion attacks rise sharply a few years after (and not during) a drought.  He thinks that drought years are good ones for lions: plenty of weak and dying prey.  But once the weak ones are gone, the few remaining livestock are vigorously defended.  So lions and people both want access to this limited resource and both are willing to fight for it.


Q: Might a limited gene pool spell trouble for these lions?

A: They’ve already been through a genetic bottleneck (about 100 years ago) and they seem to be fecund and reproducing well.  The bigger worry is some kind of livestock-borne disease, which is why we’d rather have the lions feeding on wild prey.


Q: What role does fire play in the Gir Forest Preserve?

A: Fire has not been carefully studied in Gir.  We do know that most fires in the ecosystem are human caused.


A note to the audience:  Both David Quammen and Ravi Chellam remarked that they enjoyed their presentation in Portland, and particularly the large and engaged crowd that welcomed them and offered them insightful and challenging questions and dialogue.  A note from Illahee: Thank you audience.  You made us look good.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Lion Carcass found in Gir

Source: Times of India Dtd. 19-01-2007


A carcass of a lion was found floating in the water of Kamleshwar dam inside Gir Sanctuary on Thursday morning. Deputy conservator of forest (DCF) of Gir, B. L. Shukla, was on a round, along with forest personnel and other staff, at Sasan’s Kamleshwar dam when the carcass was found.


According to conservator of forest Bharat Pathak, the carcass was taken to the veterinary hospital at Sasan where a post mortem was done. The reason behind the death of the lion is not known yet, according to Phatak. He said that viscera of the animal was sent to FSL and the forest department was waiting for the report. Pathak confirmed that all the nails of the big cat were found intact which indicates that lion was not killed by poachers. Forest officials are exploring possibilities of a snake bite. Later, after removing eighteen nails of the lion, the carcass was buried in the presence of the deputy conservator of forest.

Monday, January 08, 2007

In one week, seven man-animal conflicts

Indian Express News Service


Ahmedabad, January 7: Degeneration of habitat and loss of prey base is resulting in increasing incidents of man-animal conflict in a state blessed with bountiful wildlife. In the past one week, at least seven incidents have been reported, setting off alarm bells among forest officials and wildlife conservationists.


Close on the heels of a lion getting electrocuted in Junagadh, a young leopard sneaked into a house in Amitnagar area in Vadodara on Sunday morning. Forest officials say it was probably chasing a prey and ended up entering the house. Though it did not harm anyone and took refuge in a bathroom, residents were panicky. While this cat was cooling itself harmlessly in the bathroom, at the same time four young lions were terrorising villagers of Derwan, at the edge of Girnar forest area in Junagadh. The lions first walked through the village roaring and attacked and injured two villagers who suddenly came face-to-face with them. In both the incidents the man-animal conflict occurred because human settlements are not very far from wildlife habitat. And, as human pressure on forests increases, the animals are coming out looking for prey coming face to face with humans. This is the 14th incident since January 2006 involving leopards or lions. Since 1995, 78 people have been killed and 641 injured by leopards. Lions have killed about 22 persons and injured 130 since 1988, according to the Forest Department.


Last week, an adult lion was electrocuted in a field when it came in contact with a live wire left by the owner in Simar village in Jasdhar taluka. Though it is revenue area now, a few years ago, it was prime forest where the lions roamed free. "Lions still roam around in these areas though agriculture is practiced now and there is thick human population in the revenue areas. Lion-man conflict incidents are negligible but this incident also highlights how pressure is building up. Protected areas and forests may have shrunk on the map but the animals know no such boundaries which are leading to increased man-animal conflict. They move around unaware of the traps that humans are setting for them. Animals are dying by falling into blind wells and getting electrocuted,'' says Deputy Conservator of Forest Girnar range S K Mehta.


While shrinking habitat and proximity of human settlements in forest ranges in Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts where protected areas, forest reserves and agriculture fields share a thin boundary line, are resulting in lions and leopards ending up in conflict with humans, destruction of prime forest area in Panchmahals is driving out leopards which are found in quite a number here. A few days ago, an eight-year-old girl was killed by a leopard in Panchmahals while a man was attacked by a leopard recently. The degeneration of reserve forest areas around the Pavagadh hill is also forcing leopards to search for prey in the surrounding villages which sometimes result in unexpected forays like the one on Sunday, to the outskirts of big cities. Except in the Gir forest, leopards in all parts of the state are dependent on livestock and foray into villages in search of water and food, which results into man-leopard encounter.


Last year on August 26, a leopard terrorised people on the Bhilka-Sattar road, charging and chasing people on two-wheelers. On July 25, a youth was killed by a lion in Jasapar village in Talala taluka while lions killed a woman in Lathi village near Sutrapada on May 26.


Encroachment of forests and wildlife habitat is not only affecting the big cats; bluebulls commonly known as nilgai, wild boars, and blackbucks are also at a face-off with humans.


Forest officials say, bluebull population has increased to over 60,000 during the last two decades. With disappearance of scrub forest and grassland they started raiding agricultural fields and the problem is worsening in Kutch, Banaskantha, Rajkot, Amreli, Junagadh, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar and Surendranagar districts. Under pressure from the farmers' lobby, the Forest Department issued licenses to kill some animals in some areas. However, wildlife lovers and conservation activists raised a hue and cry after which the process was suspended, forest officials say.

Asiatic Lion; Human Animal Conflict

In a stunned Gir village, attack by four lions leaves two injured

Sibte Husain Bukhari



First time that lions have entered human habitat, attacked people


Junagadh, January 7: The appearance of four lions created havoc on Sunday morning in the small village of Derwan in Gir area even as the animals mauled two villagers, including an eight-year-old boy. The mayhem continued for about 15 minutes before the animals retreated into the forests.


The injured, Bogha Rana (55) and Bhavdeep Hamir (8), are under treatment in Junagadh Civil Hospital. Boghabhai said, "I was walking towards a farm when I saw a lion approaching me and before I could react, the animal pounced on me.”


"I tried to escape, people were shouting. Two persons came to my rescue, by then the animal retreated," he said. Little Bhavdeep was too dazed to speak. According to details, he and his father Hamir Bhati were walking towards a shop when the boy was attacked. Hamir said, "I pelted stones and shouted loudly. A few stones hit the animals and the lion freed my son.”


"Four lions entered the village from four different directions. They terrorised us for nearly 15 minutes," says Balsingh Bhati, village sarpanch.


Range Forest Officer (Girnar north range) S K Jadeja said as soon as they received the message their beat guards rushed to the spot and ensured no lions were in the area. Jadeja along with his 15 members of his staff camped in the village and scanned the area. "Compensation will be paid to the injured person according to nature of the injury. This is a rare incident in which a group of lions has attacked humans," Jadeja said.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Lion electrocuted in Gir, case filed against farmer

Sbte Husain Bukhari


Junagadh, January 5: The carcass of a lion that died from electrocution was found from a cotton cultivation farm on Friday. A case has been registered against the farmer who had wired the area for drawing power illegally. The incident occurred at Charnyawadi area near Simar village which falls under Jashadhar forest range in Dhari division of Gir (east) forest. The accused farmer, who has been identified as Gabharu Solanki, is absconding.


According to official reports, local people informed the forest beat guard of Simar village about the carcass who immediately reached the spot and confirmed the incident. Later, when informed by beat guard, forest officials from Jashadhar range rushed to the spot and recover the carcass.


“The lion was about eight years old. Investigation revealed that the animal was electrocuted,” a forest official said.


Live electric wires were found from the place.


“Accused farmer had directly connected it with overhead electric lines so it’s a clear case of power theft too. To protect the cotton crop and to prevent animals from entering the agricultural land, the farmer had placed live wire fencing,” he added.


Deputy Conservator of Forest (Gir-east) S P Sisodiya said that post-mortem was conducted by panel doctor and it was confirmed that the animal was electrocuted which was the reason behind its death. He said a casewas registered against the accused, Gabharu Solanki, under the provision of Wild Life Protection Act 1972.

Friday, January 05, 2007

FW: A young man attacked by Asiatic Lion in Gir

Source: Gujarat Samachar Dtd. 5th Jan. 2007 (Translated from Gujarati)


A young farmer Batukbhai Bharatbhai (Age – 35) was attacked by a lion two days back when he was working in his farm at village Gadhadi near Mendarda. He was mauled in stomach and is admitted to Junagadh civil hospital for treatment. Forest department has put a watch on this lion for sending it back to the forest area.


Find Everything about ASIATIC LION & GIR at 

or contact

Asiatic Lion Electrocuted in Gir

Source: Gujarat Samachar Dtd. 5th Jan. 2007 (Translated from Gujarati)


One Asiatic lion was killed due to illegal electrical fencing surrounding the farm land in near Gir which has shocked wildlife lovers.  


A farmer Gabhru Solanki had put a electrified wire fence surrounding his farm with cotton crop. His land is situated at Charnya area at 1.5 Kms from Simmar Village in Jasadhar range near Una. One lion of about 8 – 9 years age died when came in contact of this fencing. The dead body of lion was sent for postmortem by forest department.

The owner of land has run away after the incident. Before this also many such accidents have take place where many lions have died. Still because of lack of appropriate preventive legal steps such accidents are occurring.


Find Everything about ASIATIC LION & GIR at 

or contact

Monday, January 01, 2007

One more trouble for ASIATIC LION !!

India's forgotten tribes gain rights over forests

Source: Reuters.  By: Rupam Jain Nair


GIR SANCTUARY, India, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Daya Rakha, 36, was born in the jungles of the Gir wildlife sanctuary in western India and knows little else except how to live off the forest's resources.


Just as his ancestors did generations ago, Daya ekes out a meagre living mainly by tending to his cattle which relentlessly graze in Gir's lush forests.


But Daya -- like millions of India's forest dwellers -- has never been able to call the forest his home. Instead he has been treated as a criminal by authorities as he has no legal right to stay in the forests where his forefathers lived and died.


"It is the eviction notices from the government and rules made to uproot us by the forest officials that give us sleepless nights," said Daya, who belongs to the 8,400-strong Maldhari tribe of Gir.


Over 40 million of India's most impoverished and marginalised people live in the country's forests -- including tiger reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks -- but for years have been neglected by the government and left to fend for themselves.


The Maldharis have long lived with eviction threats, alleged harassment and extortion by officials who say they are guilty of environmental destruction and endangering wildlife in the sanctuary -- one of the last bastions of the rare Asiatic lion.


But a new law will for the first time enshrine their right to live in the forests and national parks. Conservationists are worried this could hamper efforts to save India's endangered wildlife such as lions and tigers.




In Gir, the pastoral Maldhari community live a simple life in small mud houses hidden deep in the forests, with no electricity, running water, schools or access to healthcare.


They earn a living by producing milk from their cattle, growing vegetables, collecting honey and trading their produce in the local market for items like food grains. Most are illiterate and unable to count or use money.


Activists say these forgotten forest people lead a primitive life and face many hardships.


"The pastoral communities do not figure in the electoral rolls," said Shekla Rakha from Setu -- a charity promoting the rights of forest dwellers. "They have become non-entities, left to fend for themselves for generations."


As a result, activsts say these communities are vulnerable to exploitation allegedly by forest officials who forcefully evict them or compel them to pay bribes to enter and exit sanctuaries.


"Two months ago when my mother died, the forest officials did not allow my relatives from nearby villages to enter the forest for the last rites," Amra Suba, a shepherd said as he tended to his flock of sheep.


"I had to pay to get permission for their entry to my own house."


But the Recognition of Forest Rights Bill 2006, passed by parliament in December, could help end the suffering of many of India's forest people by giving them rights over forest land.


The law, which will apply to those who have lived in the forests for at least three generations, will allow dwellers to use non-timber forest produce such as bamboo, stumps, cane and to collect honey. But it prohibits them from hunting animals.




While this is seen as a landmark law by social activists, environmentalists and forestry officials who hold forest dwellers responsible for damaging the environment and poaching wild animals, are concerned.


"If allowed to live in the forest, they will degrade the habitat as their cattle graze in direct competition with prey like deer," said Bharat Pathak, conservator of Gir's forests, referring to how a fall in prey would hurt numbers of predators.


Livestock are also prone to epidemics and could infect Gir's wildlife which includes the rare Asiatic lion whose numbers have recovered to around 360 from less than 15 in the mid-20th century due to a successful breeding project, he added.


Conservationists are also concerned that the law will allow more encroachers into the forests and push wildlife out of protected areas, leaving them more vulnerable to hunters.


Some wildlife activists say it is essential that forest dwellers be involved in conservation efforts and given a sense of ownership and responsibility over the forests, perhaps by employing them as tourist guides or forest guards.


Forest dwellers say they are not responsible for the loss of wildlife and regularly report poaching to authorities and monitor illegal activities such as mining and tree felling. "Officials say we are eating up the forest but in reality we are helping in protecting the lions and the jungle," says Lali Rudha, a mother of seven children.

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