Friday, May 28, 2010

Gir gets a bed to fit in Big B!

Gir gets a bed to fit in Big B!
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

Guess what was one of the biggest worries for the state tourism department which is to play host to Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan in the Asiatic lion's den in Gir forest? Finding a bed his size!

Sources in the tourism department told TOI that one of the first concerns in the meetings held to discuss the schedule for the film star — who will camp in Gujarat for a week to shoot films to promote tourism — was the basic issue of a bed.

On Wednesday night, a specially designed bed that can be dismantled was moved into the official guest house in Gir forest, Sinh Sadan, whose largest bed in the VIP suite measured just 6'x 6'. And Bachchan is 6 ft two inches tall! "The new bed, made of pure teak and measuring 7 ft and six inches long and six ft wide, will be assembled inside the suite with brand new mattresses to match," said sources in the state forest department.

This suite was last renovated when President Pratibha Patil visited here to see Asiatic lions. The bed has been made locally in Junagadh . Bachchan is being flown in a specially chartered plane on Friday to Ahmedabad and then to Bhuj where the first shoots will be held in sites like Mandvi, Dholavira and the Rann of Kutch.

On Monday he is expected to shoot in Gir where groups of lions have been readied for the esteemed visit.

Bachchan, who is brand ambassador for Gujarat , will shoot films to promote the state as a tourism destination under the theme 'Khushboo Gujarat ki', said official sources.

Tracker parties are already moving along the route to be followed by the film crew to ensure that there was enough presence of lions.

S e c re t a r y (tourism) Vipul Mittra will fly to Mumbai to escort the superstar to Ahmedabad. Bachchan is coming all alone with the crew and his programme has been kept top secret. Nobody will be allowed to accompany him on the weeklong tour.

The 67-year-old actor would fly to Junagadh district on May 31 and during his three-day stay in Junagadh, he will visit Somnath temple and Gir forest.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bachchan to shoot with Gir lions

Bachchan to shoot with Gir lions
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

Remember 'Aao Bachhon...' number from Amitabh-Rekha Bollywood blockbuster, 'Mr Natwarlal', where the superstar narrates a story of his encounter with a lion to kids? This reel story is soon getting real.

The Shahenshah would visit Gir forest to shoot with Asiatic lions for a film to promote tourism next month. Amitabh Bachchan, who is brand ambassador for Gujarat, would camp in Gir for two days between June 1-5 for the shoot. Forest department officials are busy looking for a perfect location and 'readying' a group of eight to 10 lions to feature in the shoot.

An official said trackers from the forest have been deployed to keep a check on the movement of the group within the jungle. When Bachchan finally arrives in the forest, this group of lions would be 'cornered' using baits.

A forest department official said, "The tourism department has asked us to block 15 rooms in Sinh Sadan, the forest guest house, from June 1-5." An open permit has been issued for shooting for two days in the forest. Bachchan would be shooting for two days in Gir forest and three days in Kutch.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bristol Zoo Asiatic lion dies

Bristol Zoo Asiatic lion dies

There's one less Asiatic lion in the world today with the death of Moti at Bristol Zoo.

There are only 300 Asiatic animals in the wild in India so every one is important. It would be perfect if we could protect and increase their habitat, but it's easier said than done with so many human animals so breeding initiatives in captivity are a necessity.

I was lucky enough to photograph Moti and Kamal. She was always very friendly when I had my camera out. I'd usually go before the crowds and just sit there waiting for her to come over. Here are a few of my favourites.

Hopefully Kamal will get a new mate soon and maybe move to bigger quarters: zoos are small places for big animals.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Leopard attacks farm labour

Leopard attacks farm labour
Divya Bhaskar
Briefly translated from Gujarati

A farm labour Ashok Uka Koli was working in farm at Karjala village near Odiya village in Savarkundla Taluka. He was cutting juvar crop when suddenly a leopard hiding inside the crop attacked him. The injured was taken to Savarkundla hospital for treatment.

Amitabh Bachchan’s Gujarat tourism ad film shoot from 28 May

Amitabh Bachchan's Gujarat tourism ad film shoot from 28 May

India's legendary film star Amitabh Bachchan is coming to Gujarat on 28th of May for six day shoot of advertisements promoting Gujarat's tourist places. Amitabh is brand ambassador of Gujarat Tourism.

According to sources in Gujarat tourism corporation, Big B will stay in Gujarat for six days continuously for shooting. While two ad films will be captured in Sasan Gir lion sanctuary, one film each will be captured in Kutch district's Mandvi, Dholavira and Dhordo. Shri Somnath teerth will witness shooting of films on three themes. Still photography will be done simultaneously at each location. The films will be made in Hindi and English two versions for easier and effective dubbing.

Minute details of Amitabh Bachchan's shooting including security and protocol aspects are to be finalized in a meeting today in Gandhinagar. O&M's Piyush Pande who is going to execute the project is camping in Gujarat for scouting the locations and detailing the story board.

Lion attacks, injures 2 in Talaja

Lion attacks, injures 2 in Talaja
Times of India

Two youths were attacked by lions causing serious injuries in Talaja village of Bhavnagar on Monday. Ahir Punja, 45, was working in his farm in Talaja when a lion sprung out from the bushes near his farm and caught him. Ahir managed to escape but sustained serious injuries and was rushed to Talaja hospital and later taken to Sir T Hospital in Bhavnagar.

At 11 pm, Bharat Waghela,30, was walking in his orchard where he was accompanied by seven to eight friends. when a lion, which was resting under a tree, attacked him. His friends saved him in the nick of time and rushed him to Talaja hospital.

Talaja, Mahuva, Palitana and Gogha talukas are home to at least 33 lions, who have migrated from Gir sanctuary, owing to increase in their population. The migration has also brought in reports of their attack in villages.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lion Attacks two at Dhachad-Medha

Lion Attacks two at Dhachad-Medha
Divya Bhaskar
Briefly translated from Gujarati

As the news paper reports, Bharatbhai Hadabhai Vaghela was going back home after his farm-work when suddenly a male, sitting under the lemon tree attacked him. He was mauled on leg and immediately rushed to Talaja hospital. He had 8-10 stitches on his leg.

In another incidence, Arjanbhai Punjabhai ahir (Age – 50 years) was attacked at 7 AM by a male lion at farm in Medha village near Palitana. He had 28 stitches on his injuries in hand and shoulder. Local people say that same lion had attacked these two persons. Both villages are located on banks of river Shetrunji. People have demanded to move the animal into jungle.

Move the lions

Move the lions
Business Standard

Should Asiatic lions remain confined to their last natural habitat in Gir (in Gujarat) or should their roar also be heard in other parts of the country where they roamed till about 150 years ago? The short answer is that it makes sense to create a lion population in at least one other place, especially when the Gir sanctuary is now said to have too many lions. Indeed, way back in 1979, the government had acted on the advice of wildlife conservationists and decided to shift some prides of Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) from Gir to a new sanctuary at Kuno Palpur, in adjoining Madhya Pradesh, so as to provide a second homestead to this majestic species of endangered big cats. The problem is that the Gujarat government is not inclined to part with any of its lions. As a result, the Kuno lion sanctuary, developed at a cost of over Rs 34 crore after moving out over 1,500 families living there, is still devoid of lions.

Gujarat has reason to be possessive about its lions. Apart from enjoying the distinction of being the only state where lions still exist, Gujarat also has a better record when it comes to the safe upkeep of big cats. Other states have been finding it difficult to protect equally endangered tigers despite liberal Central assistance. Tiger reserves like Sariska (in Rajasthan) and Panna (in Madhya Pradesh) lost their entire tiger population in the last few years. In healthy contrast, there has been a steady rise in the size of the lion population in Gir. According to the 2010 lion census, there are now 411 lions, against 359 in 2005. The less convincing argument, from the perspective of the lions at least, is the commercial one, that Gujarat would lose the tag of exclusivity when it comes to lions, and this would affect wildlife tourism in the state.

Perhaps, but any such impact would be marginal. And the far more important issue is the need to create healthy lion populations in more than one place. That explains why the majority of wildlife experts and conservationists feel that these arguments are not strong enough to stand in the way of a few lions being shifted out of the Gir forests. Among other things, while the overall count of Gir lions is looking up, the number of unnatural deaths of these big cats is also on the rise. Several lions have been forced in recent years to venture out into areas on the periphery of the Gir sanctuary, and moved closer to villages and towns where they come into conflict with humans. The 2010 census is reported to have indicated that more than 70 lions have settled outside the protected area. This is being viewed as a sign of overcrowding in the Gir national park. Another argument in support of the lions' relocation is that it is not good strategy to keep the entire last surviving population of an endangered species at one place. Any natural disaster, or even a disease or genetic deformity, can annihilate the entire lion population.

Those in favour of relocating some of the lions have argued over the years that this does not amount to tampering with their natural way of life. This now stands vindicated because of the successful rehabilitation of tigers in Panna national park in Madhya Pradesh, which had earlier got depleted of its entire tiger population. Three healthy tiger cubs were spotted there recently after the introduction of a tigress from Bandhavgarh in Karnataka, and a tiger from another sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh itself. What these carnivorous big cats really need for their settlement is the abundance of prey and a healthy eco-system with plenty of vegetation to support herbivore population. If the Kuno Park meets these norms, the acclimatisation of relocated lions to their new abode should not be a problem.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gujarat uses technology to count Asiatic lions

Gujarat uses technology to count Asiatic lions
The Economic Times By Bhuwan Bhaskar

A happy civilization is credited not only with ever-growing human population, but also with the positive growth of flora and fauna. And amid talks of India emerging as a superpower in a decade or so, at least one thing is burgeoning out of the bounds of civilization.

Just a fortnight ago, it was announced that Asiatic lions registered an increase of 13% vis-a-vis the earlier census in 2005 in Gir, Gujarat.

The importance of the announcement could be ascertained by the fact that the chief minister Mr Narendra Modi choose to do it himself. Mr. Modi called it a Gujarati gift to the globe. In a press conference, he announced the figures.

He proudly pronounced that Gujarat had, for the first time in the international history of lion census, used technology to count Asiatic lions. The outcome was increased numbers, improved sex ratio and more areas conquered. There were 411 of the big cats in Gir sanctuary and surrounding areas. This was a jump of 52 over the previous census in 2005.

But it was not like everything is just as hunky dory as Mr. Modi tried to project. "It would only be a political statement if we state that India has achieved so much more in conservation as compared with other countries in the neighbourhood. The real question is have we really achieved enough given our enormous potential both in terms of natural richness and diversity and more importantly our human and knowledge resources," said Dr Ravi Chellam, country director, Wildlife Conservation Society-India Program (WCS-India).

Nevertheless, Chellam hails the progress made so far. So does the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). "The government is moving in a right direction and people are more aware now. Wildlife has become pride of many populations. Like, lions are now pride of Gujarat and rhino that of Assam," said the WTI co-ordinator Dr Anil Kumar Singh.

The newly emerged figures from Gir coincides with the Golden Gujarat celebrations, marked to commemorate the 50 years of foundation of the state. But the nation has to wait for the same kind of celebration as tiger census 2009 is continuing.

"India holds over half the world's tiger population. ccording to the latest tiger census report released on February 12, 2008 by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the current tiger population stands at 1,411," claims the website of Wildlife Protection Society of India. These figures didn't include Jharkhand and Sunderbans. The state of West Bengal was covered only partially (i.e. North Bengal) during the census.

At the turn of the 19th century, one estimate of the tiger population in India placed the figure at 45,000. It came down to shocking 1,800 in the beginning of 1970s. Then in 1972, Government of India introduced wildlife protection act, which made poaching a crime and lied foundation for numerous sanctuaries.

One law in four decades! "It is not like the Wild Life Protection Act has not been amended since then. But apart from making laws, we should do a lot of other things too. Budgets of the state forest departments especially for wildlife management have grown tremendously.

Unfortunately bulk of these resources are invested in infrastructure like glossy buildings and roads. The sanctuaries and national parks are grossly understaffed. The field staff are poorly paid and lack the basic infrastructure.

It is important that the national parks and sanctuaries are open for a public audit which is not merely restricted to the financial aspects but more importantly cover the ecological and social aspects of conservation," said Dr Chellam. India has been a fabulous success story in shooting down poaching as well as accidental mortality mishappenings.

"Last year 17 cubs died falling in open wells. We are covering the open wells like mission and here is the result— only one death is reported this year," said Mr Modi. In 2010, only 23 tigers were reported dead due to the above said activities as against 85 in 2009.

There are many, who feel the laws are softer on poachers. "The sentence should be more harsh. Poachers get bail easily under present laws. They should get at least 12-14 years of jail if convicted, so that they can't turn back in the jungle," said Dr Singh of WTI.

Friday, May 14, 2010


By Lavkumar Khachar

The Gujarati daily, Gujarat Samachar of 6th April, 2010 carried a rather critical report filed by one of the Nature Clubs around the Gir Forest claiming poor patrolling within the Lion Sanctuary and the continual possibility of hunters operating inside. I wonder how efficiently the Tiger Reserves are being patrolled. As claimed by the reporter, the guards having been provided motorbikes do not bother to move into the forest on foot as was the practice earlier and as such large sections are seldom visited. These are precisely the places where antisocial elements would make their headquarters. Over large swathes across magnificent Tiger country the Forest Departments' writ operates on paper if even that, as is proved by the recent ambushing of a large contingent of paramilitary forces on the eastern edge of the Central Indian Plateau. With sanctuaries surrounded by at best indifferent communities, is it realistic to feel optimistic about the future of these big cats, particularly the tigers? Effective protection can be assured only if the Beat Guards and the Ranger Forest Officers are highly motivated and lead from the front by dedicated officers almost to levels matching the military. They should be well armed and authorized to use the weapons within the limits of the sanctuaries.  Fencing, physical or social has to be reinforced by criminal elements being apprehended quickly and dealt with summarily.

Given the socio-economic compulsions of our country, it is rather utopian to ever think of wildlife freely thriving across the countryside. It would be enough if we succeed in giving full protection to the notified wilderness areas and enhancing their wilderness attributes even as the bludgeoning population enjoys them. This alone would call for immense innovation, dedication and integrity. Should we succeed within these rather limited parameters, we shall be compelled to look at other approaches to conservation if indeed we want to ensure healthy populations of large carnivores. The sooner these are examined the better. The isolated populations in widely separated pockets will, in time be effected by loss of genetic vibrancy. Gene pools will have to be established and scientifically managed. These will require approaches ranging from zoos to large safari parks.

When one mentions "zoo……" the existing, totally inadequate and outdated ones come to mind. These old zoos, now within urban areas should be converted into parks or sold at premium rates and the animals moved outside city limits and kept in enclosures where human animal interaction can be of the highest quality available anywhere in the World. Needless to say, state of the art breeding facilities would be attached to the exhibition enclosures along with the best of veterinary provisions. These zoological parks would draw huge crowds and be largely self financing.

Beyond the urban setting, immense safari park like situations should be developed taking in the countryside as the central theme. The vast areas enclosed should encompass not only designated forest lands, but also revenue "wastelands", pastures, seasonal agriculture and farm lands. The communities involved should be made shareholders of the enterprises. With the carnivores in semi captive situation, there would be protection of the vegetation resulting in the improving of water retention on the hills and a total regeneration of otherwise highly degraded commons. More important, the pressure of visitors on the National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries would be eased. The possibilities are exciting.

In a letter to the Chief Minister of Gujarat I have outlined the above concept with the lions in focus. As I developed the concept incorporating more than half a century of thinking, I was amazed to find I was offering an alternate blue print for the regeneration of Saurashtra's largely devastated pastoral and rural economy!  I found that the lion could actually become a reason for an integrated eco-conservation program on a breath taking scale. What is possible with the Asiatic Lion would be possible for the Indian Tiger. While strengthening the protection of the existing, notified Sanctuaries and National Parks, very radical approaches will need to taken totally involving the rural communities that would be intimately sharing space with the Great Cats. If we continue to operate along the compartmental approach that the System is most comfortable with, I can do no better than share a small experience from my own life.
I had visited the Apa Tani Valley in Arunachal Pradesh on assignment with WWF-India – do not ask me the year – to enquire about the Blacknecked Crane that were reputed to winter there in the flooded fields of the Apa Tanis. Needless to say, there were no crane. They had stopped coming for some time now since the time the tribals acquired shotguns. This was to be expected since these people were animists unlike their neighbors in Bhutan to the east and Tibet to the north. There, the Chief Wildlife Warden of Arunachal Pradesh very kindly offered to take me into the Subansiri valley and then down to the railhead in Assam. Attendant was the local Range Forester of Bengali extract. It turned out that this obsequies subordinate had developed a strong working relationship with the tribes of the area putting to good use his knowledge of homoeopathic medicine. Passing one of the settlements, I expressed a wish to look inside one of the large, well constructed huts on stilts. The Chief Wildlife Warden, a hearty Sikh gentleman with all the expansive attributes of his tribe demurred, claiming that "These people are not very hospitable …….." His subordinate, for a change took the initiative and hailing a villager suspiciously eying us spoke to him in the local dialect. We were unhesitatingly ushered up into the dark hut were, once the eyes adjusted to the gloom I noticed a central fireplace around which were seated what seemed the entire household. The eldest was introduced as the Headman of the community and then with great courtesy we were made to sit beside him. An ancient lady came forward with mugs containing what with a smile she said was "Arunachal Chai!" It was the local millet brew not unlike the "Chang" or rice beer of Himachal Pradesh. Mr. Singh (Lion) began to speak of the need for not killing the tiger since so few were left and in time, the younger generations would not be able to see any. After what became a long monologue not unlike all the pep talk "environment educators" spew out to children on World Environment Day, and time for the matter to be translated into the local dialect, the Head Man gravely responded. The essence of what he had to say was that "Tigers attack our women when they go into the forest and are a danger to our children and our livestock. Our children will be well rid of a continual danger. We shall kill tigers……" After another round of the Arunachal Chai and courteous handshakes we clambered down and into our waiting jeep. I could not help having a dig at my official host…"In all honesty, you cannot fault the argument. Yours and my illustrious ancestors clear felled all the forests and extirpated the lions and tigers of Gujarat and the Punjab to leave behind prosperous Singhs and illustrious Sinhs and our children seem not to be any the worse for the fact".  
 Lavkumar Khachar.


By Lavkumar Khachar

Rajkot. Thursday, 1st April, 2010.

Yesterday night I saw on television Tiger Bone Whiskey being touted for sale in China! Earlier the same day there had been a Blog by Satyendra Tiwari informing about a tiger having killed a girl from one of villages bordering the Bandhavgarh National Park. Satyendra makes a living as a wildlife guide. These two episodes troubled me through the night compelling me to sit down and outline my concerns. Are we in India very seriously contemplating the issues involving the protection of our wildlife in general and the large carnivores in particular? In all honesty, I believe much is just cosmetics. The Indian Tiger and the Asiatic Lion --- and for that matter the other larger mammals like Gaur, Rhinoceros  and Elephants, are not safe since very serious, comprehensive conceptualizing of how to integrate their welfare into the larger more pressing human problems is not happening.  Can anyone tell me how much a dead tiger is worth keeping the China Whiskey in mind as against the value of a living tiger to the communities around our National Parks? I would like to see comprehensive, vibrant programs where by these communities are the total beneficiaries of the living tigers. At best there is a very vague outline conceived in what is being publicized as the Brihad (Greater) Gir where the lions are spreading out well beyond the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and being accepted (so far) with a measure of proprietor pride by the people. It is this experiment which needs to be concentrated on instead of all this, to my mind childish, talk of swopping wild tigers for wild lions. Very sharply etched priorities need to be worked on by which the existing populations of wild carnivores are provided absolute security. With this preamble, let me get on with my worries.

The much publicized Project Tiger is now well in its fortieth decade. We all know the tigers disappearing in thin air from the Siraska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan. What is happening in those Reserves that are infested by the pesky Naxalites is any ones guess. I would not be surprised if the big cats have been converted into finances for ammunition. I have figures from the Ranthambhore with its much ogled tigers and here, all does not seem to be well. But, before I focus on this flag ship Reserve of the Project, let me make a few general observations. Assuming that an area is well managed, the wildlife population will continue to grow until such time as to reach an optimum and the animals would start spreading out well beyond the protected area. They would immediately start coming into conflict situations with human beings lifting domestic stock and mauling, if not killing people. Do the authorities have records of such happenings? Even if no conflict results, should it not be the concern of the wardens to know about the well being these animals? Are there any records available? Most assuredly, these animals have ended up in the black market. It is this unmonitored zone around each protected area that worries me as the nascent zone generating poaching which can assume virulent proportions should there be social unrest among the people. Then, there is the troubling question of inbreeding of discrete populations within the isolated protected areas; I have not heard of what should be done about this problem other the rather impractical suggestions of setting up "corridors" to interlink the Parks and Sanctuaries along which wildlife can move. Having travelled from Kanha to Bandhavgarh, I fail to see how any such corridor can possibly be developed between the two, let alone linking them with Ranthambhore to the distant West and then North to Siraska. The wildlife "experts" will have to come forward with more practical suggestions.

I have some information on Ranthambhore Tiger Preserve which is the best known and I am not too happy with what I have learnt. I would wish the information is wrong and would love to be corrected—that is what the purpose of initiating discussions on issues is all about. In India, given our horrendous human problems, conservation issues do tend to get overshadowed and a feeling of complaisance sets in and the initial sense of urgency gets lost. Well back to Ranthambhore. Here are the facts with me:

Area:  1330 square Kilometers which my calculator converts to 513.51351 square Miles as against the 1412 square Kilometers or 545.17375 square Miles of the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park. Ranging over this area and into the adjacent Sawai Mansingh Wildlife Sanctuary there are some 40 tigers. The information, though not coming to me from official sources is worth sharing:

Location, sex and age wise break up:
 Ranthambhore:                              Males    Adults:                          13
                                                                              Sub Adults:            3                             16

                                                              Females Adults:                      17
                                                                              Sub Adults:                3                           20
                                                                             Total:                                                       36

                                                Less:    Adults sent to Siraska
                                                                                    Male:                      1
                                                                                    Females:                 2
                                                                                            Total:              3

                                                             Females died                                  2
                                                                                   Total:                         5
                           Balance at Ranthambhore:                                                                        31
Sawai Mansingh Wildlife Sanctuary:                                                            5

Outside Protected Areas:                                                                               2            
                                                             Total:                                                                          38

This estimate is on the lower side and certainly subject to correction, but will do for the discussion I intend to initiate.

Five hundred square Miles would seem to be adequate for 12 adult males. Quite obviously, the stronger and more dominant males would hold the largest and the best territories, the peripheries spilling over outside the Preserve would be where the younger males and the displaced older ones would be prowling the circuits. It these males that would be the ones who would end up in conflict with human beings, lifting domestic stock and possibly end up mauling or killing villagers. A forward looking management would see these peripheral males, the younger ones particularly, as forerunners to the expanding of Ranthambhore yet these interfaces where the danger lies in providing temptations to kill the tigers for economic considerations.  A tiger can be easily poisoned by lacing the carcass with cheap ubiquitous pesticides, the carcass made to vanish without leaving any trace into the underworld labyrinth of the international wildlife trade.  Within the Preserve would be continual tension for territory and females heightened in this instance by the low tigress to tiger ratio.

Among the adult tigresses too there would be competition to hold prime territory and the older as well as the younger females would diffuse outwards. A tigress young or old in a new area should be good news as she would breed and provide a nucleus expanding the tiger domain, but as things are, she would be a heightened potential for man vs tiger conflict as a tigress, especially an aging one, with cubs would be more tempted to take to killing humans. Does Project Tiger have any advance planning for such outward movement resulting from success of their protective measures within the Reserve? In any case, any talk of tigers spreading out beyond the protected areas would be meaningful provided there is an active program in place to ensure availability of wild ungulates along with a scheme for quick compensation of domestic stock lifted by tigers. If there is one in place, it would be welcome news.

The impression I have gained is that the Project Tiger staff at Ranthambhore is more involved with handling the tourists flocking to see the tigers. One wonders how the authorities with this mind set will ever consider setting up units for tourists around Ranthambhore on lines of the Hudko experiment in Kachchh. Let it be stated in no uncertain terms that if we cannot put up chain link fencing around our major wildlife areas, the only alternative is to have the local communities actively involved in the blueprinting of successful conservation. The huge amount of money being generated by the Ranthambhore tigers must be equitably shared with the communities if they are to be the effective living fencing for the tigers.

What of the tigers which die? Does inbreeding of isolated populations pose a serious long term problem? Can large predators like tigers roam free across the landscape? Do the experts talking about translocation of lions and tigers have acceptable answers?                                        

Lavkumar Khachar.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Caged king

Caged king
Prasad Nichenametla, Hindustan Times

"I promised villagers near Gir that lions would not be sent outside the state," Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi said last Sunday at a function to release the lion census, which brought happy tidings.

The Asiatic lion (panthera leo persica) population in the state, which the previous census in 2005 had estimated at 359, had grown to 411.

But that was where the good news ended.

"Lions are part of our heritage," Modi added, stubbornly sticking to his stand of not allowing 12 lions from Gujarat's Gir forest – its last natural habitat – to be relocated to Madhya Pradesh.

The Union environment ministry had planned a lion project in Madhya Pradesh's Kuno Palpur, 450 km north of Bhopal, but this is unlikely to materialise soon as the issue has become enmeshed with regional sentiments.

Subliminally, Modi has linked the issue with his political plank – of protecting "Gujarati asmita (pride)". Thus, a conservation issue has got politicised, and the plan to gradually bring the Asiatic lion out of the endangered list has been nipped in the bud.

Incidentally, both MP and Gujarat are ruled the same party – the BJP.

But the growing lion population has stretched the 1,412 sq. km Gir to its limits. Gir officials say Bruhad or Greater Gir can accommodate 500 animals, but according to wildlife conservationists, even the present population is too high.

With weaker and younger males driven out by stronger ones, several lions have strayed into coastal areas and close to towns such as Rajkot.

The 2010 census shows 74 lions have settled outside the protected area, creating concerns about man-lion conflicts.

"The Maldharis in Gir forests and adjacent villages have adapted to the lions' presence for centuries. But we cannot expect the same from villages or towns where it is proposed to shift them," says Kausik Banerjee, senior research fellow, WII.

"Gujarat says Kuno Palpur is close to Ranthambore (in Rajasthan), which has tigers, and, hence, the lions will be in danger. If that is the case, how did lions come to India and coexist with tigers?" asks Ravi Chellam, country director, Wildlife Conservation Society of India.

On the basis of Chellam's report, Kuno Palpur was finalised as the proposed second home for the lion.

"There is no scientific basis for not shifting a handful of lions out of the 411 that currently live in the wild," says Chellam, who was earlier with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun.

J.S. Chauhan, chief conservator of forests, Bhopal, in charge of the lion project in Kuno Palpur, adds: "If the sticking point is the brand 'Gujarat', let us call them 'Gujarat Gir lions' instead of 'Asiatic lions'. They may be in Madhya Pradesh but they will still be Gujarati lions."

Modi is unconvinced. He says: "At a time when the population of tigers is dwindling in the country, lions are growing in the state thanks to the ecology provided by the locals – the cowherd community called Maldharis. Gir is the best-protected sanctuary in the country, maybe even the world."

But experts aren't buying this line. "It is not for one individual to decide the fate of a species. Modi can be a champion of Gujarati asmita but by not allowing lions outside the state, he will become a champion of the extinction of a wonderful species," says Faiyaz Ahmed Khudsar, convener, Biodiversity Conservation Trust of India.

Based on a public interest petition from non-governmental organisations in 2005, the matter is now before the Supreme Court.

Senior forest officials and wild life experts in Gujarat agree in private that it is politics that is coming in the way of moving the lions.

"There is no harm in parting with a few lions. It's nothing but politics, which is not sparing even the wild animals in the country," a very senior official in Gujarat forest department tells Hindustan Times.

At the ground level, there is a business angle at work as well. Locals fear that Gir forest will lose its attraction as a tourist destination if its status as the last natural habitat of the Asiatic lion goes.

"Once that special tag is gone, who will care (about this place)? The sentiment to protect the lion will slowly fade in these local communities also," a forest officer says.

"Gujarat has done a good job but what we need is another living place for the animal far away from Gir -- like the past lion habitats in Madhya Pradesh or somewhere else," adds Divyabhanu Singh Chavda, member, National Wildlife Board, and president, board of trustees, World Wide Fund for Nature.

The arguments and counter-arguments flow back and forth. The king of Gir forest, meanwhile, remains caught in a web of politics.

Man attacked by lion, hospitalised

Man attacked by lion, hospitalised
Times of India
Print Edition

Balubhai Kathi,35, was attacked by a lion in a farm in Padhargadh village in Dhari taluka, 12 km away from Bagasara, on Tuesday around 3 pm. Kathi had was working inn the farm when the incident took place. He sustained severe injuries and was rushed in 108 ambulance to a hospital in Bagasara and later transferred to the hospital in Rajkot. Earlier, people confirmed they have seen four leopards together in Ghantiyan village. The forest department have taken steps to cage the big cats before they could harm other villagers.

Lion injured in infight

Lion injured in infight
Divya Bhaskar
Briefly translated from Gujarati

A sick male lion was tranquilized and caught by team of Dr. Hirpara for treatment in Visavadar range. The cause of injury was infight between animals informed RFO Kandoriya. After treatment animal was let free in the jungle.

Mother’s Day: Mother fights with leopard to save son

Mother's Day: Mother fights with leopard to save son
Divya Bhaskar
Briefly translated from Gujarati

Ikbal Saheli and his family lives at Shirvan village in Talala Taluka. Yesterday night they were watching India – Srilanka match when lights went off. Family kept door open and went to sleep. In mid-night at about 1AM, leopard entered the house and picked – up his 10 year old son Zakir. Immediately, Fatma mother of Zakir, got up and threw chair at the leopard. Leopard injured the boy on neck and ran away. Boy was taken to hospital for treatment.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Probe ordered into deaths of 11 blackbucks in Gujarat

Probe ordered into deaths of 11 blackbucks in Gujarat
Bombay News.Net

The Gujarat government Wednesday ordered an inquiry into the mysterious deaths of 11 blackbucks in the Gir forest sanctuary in Saurashtra region of the state.

The bodies of 11 blackbucks were found by forest officials in the limits of Nana Hadmatiya and Kana Vadla villages in Junagadh district falling within the notified national park.

The bodies bore no marks of external injury and the forest officials believed the deaths could be a case of mass poisoning through water or fodder.

The forest officials' suspicion on water poisoning is linked to presence of artificial water holes in the park.

The water holes seem to have been created as if these were meant to lure the animals, said an official.

The forest officials have collected water samples and the mud from the holes for laboratory tests.

The local villagers often come in confrontation with the blackbucks as they move in groups and sometimes destroy their standing crops in the fields.

Eleven blackbucks found dead, poisoning not ruled out

Eleven blackbucks found dead, poisoning not ruled out

Times of India

In a shocking development, no less than 11 blackbucks were found dead under mysterious circumstances in Nana Hadmatiya and Kana Vadla area in Junagadh district on Monday night.

Officials said the possibility of poisoning through water or fodder cannot be ruled out as there were no external injury marks on the carcasses. These blackbucks were found dead in the revenue area of the two villages in Visavadar taluka of the district. This is probably the first incident in the recent past where such a high count of the endangered species were found dead at one place.

Officials said the incident was reported to them late in the night on Monday. The water samples and even the samples of the mud have been taken and sent for examination by the forensic science laboratory, said officials.

The range forest officer in charge of the region said there were artificial water holes in the vicinity. The poison could have been mixed in these waters. He said the possibility of poisoned fodder also cannot be ruled out.

Officials also said the blackbucks in the area were in confrontation with the farmers as the animal always moves in a group and these groups destroy the standing crop, thus causing losses to the farmers.

Leopard kills 20 sheep in Bhavnagar village

Leopard kills 20 sheep in Bhavnagar village
Times of India

A leopard caused the death of over 30 sheep and injured 20 more in a village in Mahuva taluka of Bhavnagar district in the wee hours of Tuesday. While the big cat injured and killed 20 sheep, about 40 others reportedly jumped into a nearby well to save themselves.

Sources in Mahuva said, the incident was reported at 2 am in Neswad village. "Mammaiya Bhangra, a shepherd belonging to Guvana village of Jamnagar district, had recently migrated to Neswad with 450 cattle including cows, sheep and goats," an official of Mahuva range office said. Bhangra awoke with a start as he heard the cries of the animals. He spotted the leopard killing his sheep but was helpless as he was alone.

"A total of 30 sheep have died. While the leopard killed 20 sheep, those that jumped into the well were brought out by forest officers and locals but about 10 of them couldn't take the trauma and died. The rest, about 10 to 12 sheep have been kept under observation," the official said.

Meanwhile, in Dhari range in Amreli district, a leopard was trapped in a cage laid in the range during Tuesday night. The leopard had been causing panic in Dhari and nearby villages of Sarasiya, Jeera and Dudhala. The animal has been sent to Jasadhar animal care centre for medical check-up.

Lion attacks man at Padargadh

Lion attacks man at Padargadh
Gujarat Samachar
Briefly translated from Gujarati

A farmer, Balubhai Desabhai Wala resident of Padargadh village in Dhari Taluka (Gir E) was going to his farm at about 2:30 PM yesterday. Suddenly a lion attacked and mauled him on his stomach and arm-pit. He was injured and taken to Dhari hospital and then to Rajkot hospital for treatment.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Counting Gir’s Big Cats

Counting Gir's Big Cats
Indian Express By Shubhalakshmi Shukla

The just-concluded 13th Asiatic Lion census in Gir Sanctuary has revealed an increase in their numbers. Shubhlakshmi Shukla, the only reporter to tag along with the hundreds of officials and volunteers who conducted the exercise, reports

It was three in the morning and there was a stench of fresh meat. A few metres from our vehicle, we saw it — a dead spotted deer. The big cats couldn't be far. Sure enough, a leopard was slinking towards its kill, but before it could get to it, the meat was dragged away by a lion that had pounced on it from a slope on the other side." Anish Andheria, director of the Wildlife Conservation Trust, was clearly excited, his black Nikon D200 SLR dangling on a strap from his neck. It is 9 am at the forest guest house in Sasan, a village of 4,000 on the fringes of the Gir Sanctuary in Junagadh district. Anish had just returned from a three-day sojourn in the forest as an observer in the just-concluded census of lions.

"On April 24, I saw a lion and a lioness in the Dadakadi zone. Then I saw a female sub-adult in the Kerambha zone," he said. "In all, I have seen 18 lions—some of them were sub-adults, three or four were cubs and most of them were females." The 13th Asiatic Lion census took place in Gir Sanctuary and the forests neighbouring it, between April 24 to 27, amid a simmering controversy over the Madhya Pradesh government seeking the relocation of a few big cats from Gir, and Gujarat government refusing to part with them.

The Gujarat government would not allow the media to tag along with the hundreds of officials and volunteers in the exercise. Fortunately, though, there was room for this flora enthusiast who could rattle off scientific names of Gir plants. The census yielded heartening results—the number of lions in Gir had increased remarkably over the last five years, from 359 in 2005 to 411 in 2010.

Andheria, 38, drove some 200 km in the woods over three days, subsisting on bajra ni rotli and shak offered by villagers. Laxman Dholkai, sarpanch of Sasan village, who had arrived at the guest house on his motorcycle, said, "We have always lived with the Asiatic Lion and with hundreds of other animals and birds. And we want to continue to live with them." Dholkai has been part of three earlier lion censuses.

In the just-concluded census, over 300 sarpanchs offered their tractors to supply food, accommodation and 900 villagers were chosen as volunteers. The operation was spread over an area roughly the expanse of Delhi, divided into seven regions that were further divided into 28 zones, which were further fragmented into 100 sub-zones. The scale of the operation was staggering: 135 officers, 450 enumerators, 900 volunteers, 50 photographers, 12 doctors, 11 researchers, 200 four-wheeled vehicles and 450 motorbikes.

On the morning of April 27, the last day of the exercise, a gray, hardtop Gypsy rumbled into the forest, and after an hour, we — four of us, including the driver, a guide and Vira Chopra, three-time lion census observer—reached a shallow, cemented water trough where three men stood in the unforgiving sun, wearing black boots provided by the forest department. One of them was a forester clad in khaki, GPS device in hand. The other two were volunteers. Smoking a beedi, one said they had spotted two cubs and one grown female since morning. "That's good news," said Chopra, above the cacophony of cicadas resounding through the teak forest. He believed the number of young adult lions was on the rise.

Back in Sasan, the conversation was animated, broken by calls from the teams reporting from the field. There were eminent animal enthusiasts here, among them were Venu Menon of the Animal Allies Foundation and ornithologist Lavkumar Khacher. By evening, the guest house was swarming with more than a hundred volunteers and forest officials. Seventy-four-year-old Sanath Chavan, who was deputy conservator of forests, Gir Sanctuary, in 1968, when the first census was conducted, recalled how a lion had once sat atop a villager for two hours. The man had lain on the ground waiting for death, but all the lion did was break two of his rib bones, and that from its sheer weight. Chavan, who has spent half-a-century with lions, had many stories to tell—about Nawabi trackers who sat beside the biggest lions, and "cowardly" Britishers who made them hold the cats by their limbs so that they could shoot at them. The stories went on till dinner, after which everyone went back to their maps and notes — they had a report to submit at 2 pm the next day.

Move to shift Maldharis raises debate again

Move to shift Maldharis raises debate again
Times of India

The move to shift 100 Maldharis families outside the Gir sanctuary has again raised a debate on if the move was in the interest of the lion population.

Local experts feel that shifting the Maldharis would indirectly affect the feeding pattern the lion, forcing them to move out of the region. The forest officials say that the instances of lions preying on locals' cattle on the periphery were increasing and it was a clear indication that shifting the Maldharis was adversely affecting them.

The state government, in order to reduce the interference of Maldharis and their cattle in the G i r sanctuary in Ju n a - gadh, has d e c i d e d that about 100 families should be shifted out of the sanctuary area. Recently, a grant of Rs50 crore was approved by Union ministry of forests and environment for lion conservation in Gujarat. This is, however, only the first instalment of Rs236 crore sought by the state for several conservation projects.The presence of Maldharis is believed to have detrimental effect on the lions. The department estimates that the cost of rehabilitating one Maldhari family would be at least Rs10 lakh.

The foresters said that the department planned to relocate all the families and if they agreed some land outside the sanctuary would be given to them, while forest dep a r t m e n t would take control of the land within the sanctuary.

Revtubha Raizyada, former member of State Wildlife Board, said that the Lions found buffaloes easy prey. If the buffaloes were shifted out, then the lion would follow them. He further said that catching the chittal and sambhar had become difficult because of the dense forest.

However, former principal chief conservator of forests, GA Patel, said that buffalo was definitely a easy prey base for the lion but one has to shift them as the lions were getting lazy. He said that prey base in Gir was 60,000 and once the buffaloes are shifted out the animal would definitely develop back the habit of hunting. He said that the Maldharis were also playing mischief by releasing old and weak animal in the open for
   the animal to kill and then they would claim money for loss of a milching cow.


Times of India

Gir Lions' Sex Ratio Improved Considerably In The Last Census, But Experts Say The Situation Is Far From Ideal

The male female ratio in Gir's lion population has improved and there are now 1.67 females for every lion. In the sanctuary, against 97 males, there were 182 females. Though the sex ratio has improved, wildlife experts say that a lot more is to be done before that sigh of relief. In an ideal situation, for every one lion there should be two lionesses, they say.

The experts and foresters point out that among the sub adult lions, the ratio was one male for each female. In this category there are 29 cub, which are yet to be identified.

G u j a r at 's chief minister Narendra Modi too, in his official, wrote, "When our society faces the irrational female feticide I would say that it is worthwhile to learn from the lions where male-female ratio is 1:1.67. The future of lion lies in their cubs and sub-adults and 40 per cent of the Asiatic lion population comprises cubs and subadults."

The forest officials, however, say that this ratio means that we are not far from the danger sign. One forester told TOI that in an ideal situation one male should have two female. At one point in the late 70's, the ratio was skewed in favour of the males. The official says that the ratio of 1:1.67 is also questionable as several wondering lonely lions have not been taken into account. He says their number was well above 100, where the government has announced only 97. This would bring the male-female ratio to 1:1.5.
Ravi Chellam, a lion expert, puts the ideal ratio at three to four female for every male. The improvement is a healthy sign though, he says. Sanat Chauhan, former principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) agrees that the change in the said ratio in favour of lionesses is better than the past ratio of 1:1.

For the lion population to flourish one needs to see that there are more females than males, he says. Usually one male impregnates two females in one matting season, and this maintains the forest ecology.

GA Patel, also former PCCF, says that the present ratio is not very satisfactory. The increase in the number of lionesses will prevent infighting between two males, further helping their population. He said that the ratio has been increasing gradually as seen in last two census as well.

Will Girnar be included in vulture count?

Will Girnar be included in vulture count?
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

The volunteers who have been entrusted the responsibility of the vulture count in the state cried foul over the exclusion of the volunteers from the Girnar area.

This has raised doubts on whether the census would cover the Girnar region at all. The area is important as the Girnar ropeway project, which is referred to the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) is still pending clearance. Union minister Jairam Ramesh is to visit the area, to examine whether the project was a hindrance in the conservation of the vultures in the area.

Volunteers said that officials have clearly directed the volunteers to keep out of the area saying the count would be conducted by the officials of the forest department.

However, CN Pandey, director Gujarat Ecological Education and Research Foundation said, "This area has a good number of lions and vehicle movement is restricted so we have to seek permission. We have directed forests department staff to take up the count."

Volunteers threaten to boycott vulture census

Volunteers threaten to boycott vulture census
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

Several volunteers and NGOs involved with vulture conservation in the state have decided to stay away from the official vulture count beginning May 29.

The volunteers, who are associated with such government projects and refused to be identified, said that the government had done two counts, in 2005 and 2007, but little happened in the area of conservation of vultures. The 2007 census showed that the vulture count had dropped to 1,431 from 2,642 in 2005.

The NGOs and the volunteers claimed they wanted action and not mere lip service. They said that would stay away from the census till they find some action on the ground. The NGOs have been conducting raids on use of diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory non-steroid drug used to treat cattle/domestic livestock. But they claimed they got no support from government departments.

A volunteer said, during the census meeting, several volunteers tried to ask the authorities about the conservation programmes, but they were just told to shut up. It's the meeting for the census and not related to conservation, they were told.

Another volunteer working in the state government said, "Officials ask us to go out on bikes while their enumerators and officials go out in AC cars." They also complained that last time they were given only Rs 1,000 per day to cover whole district and expenses like petrol, food and even remuneration. Bharat Jethwa, a conservationist said that the volunteers had decided to stay away mainly because there were no conservation measures by the government. The government has got Rs 84 lakh for vulture conservation, but the amount has not been spent, he said.

Vipul Lehri, working in Amreli on issues related to vulture population, said that there were no doctors and the banned drug was easily available over the counter. CN Pandey, director of Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (Geer) Foundation, said that the volunteers were yet to communicate their decision to him. "The volunteers are just raising baseless issues. Several measures have been taken."

The real issue was that several organisations wanted to take up the census, but the government asked Geer to conduct it which was not liked by these organisations and hence they were raising a hue and cry, he claimed.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sharing the pride

Sharing the pride
Indian Express By Ravichellam

Globally, a majority of people including Indians are not aware that India has wild lions. The tiger, which replaced the lion as the national animal in the early 1970s, does hog the headlines and therefore has a much stronger link to India and an overwhelming presence in public conscience. The only surviving population of wild and free-ranging lions in Asia is found in and around the Gir forest in the Saurashtra peninsula of Gujarat.

The Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica) has been in the news recently. The result of the 2010 lion census was recently announced and the total number of wild lions in Saurashtra is 411 — a 14 per cent increase from the last official estimate of 359 lions in 2005. This is clearly good news. In fact the conservation history of the lions in and around Gir is a remarkable success story, and the challenge now is to sustain and build on these achievements to ensure the long-term survival of these wonderful wild cats.

Lions are unique in being the only social cats. The lions in Gir are special as they are mainly forest-dwelling and subsisting on deer unlike their African cousins. I spent more than four years studying the lions for my PhD, from December 1985 to March 1990, and since then have retained an abiding interest in the ecology and conservation of these lions.

The government of Gujarat and the citizens of the state, especially in Saurashtra deserve whole-hearted appreciation and support for their conservation efforts, which have led to a significant increase in the number of Asiatic lions. The scale of this achievement can be fully recognised only when we compare the current population of lions in Gir with estimates in the late 1800s and early 1900s which put the number as low as 20 to 50 lions. While we may quibble over the veracity of these estimates (including the current ones), what cannot be challenged is that the lions in Gir had a close brush with extinction due to their very low population, and with the increase in numbers their conservation status has improved.

Despite the conservation prospects vastly improving for the lions in Gir, this population constitutes the only remaining wild Asiatic lions. It is akin to having all your eggs in one basket. Lions, in the current situation, face the risk of extinction from a whole host of threats. If any of these threats were to actualise, it will have catastrophic consequences and result in the complete erosion of the conservation gains of more than a century. Science and prudence demand that at least one more free-ranging population of lions be established by translocating eight lions from Gir and reintroducing them in Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in western Madhya Pradesh.

I see the translocation and establishment of another free-ranging population of lions as buying insurance against extinction of wild and free-ranging lions in Asia. Irrespective of the size of the population of lions in Gir, the fact that Gir and its surroundings are the only place where wild lions occur in Asia, is enough justification for the translocation. It does not matter whether you have a dozen eggs or one hundred eggs in your basket. If the basket falls all the eggs are bound to break.

As I have already acknowledged, the proposed translocation is no reflection on the quality of care and management that the state government and the citizens have bestowed on the lions over the last several decades. We do not buy life insurance for ourselves and our family members expecting that we will all die shortly. Similarly why should we not take all precautions to guard against the conservation threats that a single population is inherently bound to face? The argument that no such event has occurred in the last century is to tempt fate.

There is a major problem in the thinking and policy making related to wildlife conservation in India. The focus is invariably on the fate of individual animals, when the inescapable reality is that all animals are born to die. It is the timing and the circumstances of death that should be of concern rather than the fact that animals have died. The focus of conservation action should be to ensure, (a) persistence of populations of wildlife, (b) quality, integrity and contiguity of wildlife habitats, and (c) mitigation of human-wildlife conflicts. I expect far more effective conservation if this line of thinking is properly understood and guides conservation planning in India.

The government of Gujarat and popular sentiment in the state have been opposing the idea of translocating lions outside the state. A whole host of objections have been voiced, including the state's response to a PIL in the Supreme Court. I do not want to use this space to refute these objections, not because they cannot be refuted, but because I think there is a need for us to fundamentally re-engage Gujarat in this dialogue. I strongly believe that almost all of their objections come from a flawed understanding of the objectives of the proposed translocation and an incomplete understanding of the scientific principles governing the management of endangered species. The Government of India and Government of Madhya Pradesh should proactively engage Gujarat in this conservation initiative.

By keeping the conservation of Asiatic lions as the focused objective, and adopting a generous and cooperative attitude, I am hopeful that the two state governments and the Centre can work out an innovative set of solutions to break the current logjam. I am confident that the lion's roar will soon resound through vast tracts of forests which were once part of its former distribution range in central India.

The writer is country director, Wildlife Conservation Society-India Programme

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Leopard caged in Amreli village, sent to Sakkarbaug Zoo

Leopard caged in Amreli village, sent to Sakkarbaug Zoo
Times of India

A leopard that killed an eight-year-old boy in Anida village of Khambha taluka in Amreli district was caged on Thursday night by forest department officials.

According to deputy conservator of forests (Gir East), Maniswar Raja, soon after the boy, Mayur Solanki, was killed by the leopard, forest officials placed cages in the area. "We have sent it to Sakkarbaug Zoo in Junagadh," Raja said. According to forest officials, on Wednesday night, Mayur was asleep outside his hut in the village along with his family members. When family members woke up in the morning, they did not find Mayur in his bed. Later on, his mauled body was found nearby.

Two children of the same village were killed by a leopard in the last two months and in the last three months, six people have been killed by leopards in Saurashtra region.

Friday, May 07, 2010

MP eyes 74 lions

MP eyes 74 lions
Today By Jumana Shah

As the 411-odd Asiatic Lions merrily roam in Kathiawar, today the Supreme Court may finally see some arguments on whether the king of Gujarat's jungles should be relocated to the Kuno Palpur Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh or not.

Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan is scheduled to set open the lion relocation case for argument on Friday.

Interestingly, the stellar rise in lion population has been envisaged as posing a problem for the state to retain them in the state. According to sources, MP is eyeing the 74 lions that have been shown to be roaming outside the four sanctuary areas in the 2010 census.

"The point is Gujarat does not have a designated habitat for these 74 lions. They are perhaps regularly in conflict with humans. So why not give just one pride out of this spillover population to MP? We are not touching the lions inside the Gir Sanctuary," the source said.

The latest developments in the case have not been too favourable for Gujarat. In their latest affidavit of January 2010, the National Board for Wildlife in India (NBWLI) had supported the move to MP. This was after a long series of affidavits by Gujarat citing several reasons protesting the move. Gujarat's foresters have been camping in the national capital for the past three days in the countdown to the hearing.

Wildlife activist Faiyaz Khudsar had filed PIL in the SC requesting the translocation of the lions from Gir to Kuno on the grounds that a singular epidemic can wipe out the entire population.

The Asiatic breed of lions is now only found in Gujarat. The state has constantly argued that translocation may not be fruitful to MP mainly owing to the presence of tigers and poachers. "The recent lion census indicates a trend of stable and young population of lions in Gujarat. There is a strong prey base here. And most importantly, the people here are very supportive and emotionally involved with the lions. Therefore poaching is never going to be a problem here," principal secretary environment and forest SK Nanda said.

Despite the build up, however, the case may not be taken up by the court owing to several other important matters and the fact that the chief justice of India KG Balakrishnan who will be hearing the case will be retiring on May 11.

Boy dragged away by leopard, killed in Amreli village

Boy dragged away by leopard, killed in Amreli village
Times of India

The fifth human was mauled to death by a leopard in Saurashtra within the past three months — this time an eightyear-old boy in Amreli district — on Thursday. According to forest officials, Mayur Solanki, a resident of Anida village in Khambha taluka, was asleep in an open field outside his hut with his family members at night when he was dragged away. However, his family did not realise he was not there till they woke up on Thursday. The family found the body from nearby bushes after a while. Confirming the news, deputy conservator of forests (Gir East) Maniswar Raja said, "The family ekes out a living by daily wages. Mayur's body was found about 200 m away from the place where he was asleep." The forest department announced a Rs 1 lakh compensation for the deceased's family. "We have placed cages in the area to nab the leopard,'' Raja said.

Leopard killed after injuring 4

Leopard killed after injuring 4
Times of India By Yagnesh Mehta

In a tragic incident, four people were injured in an attack by a leopard which was killed subsequently by one of the victims at Unn village of Mandvi taluka in Surat district around 6 am on Thursday. The leopard died on the spot as its head was crushed with a land digging tool. Of the four injured, two seriously injured were brought to New Civil Hospital (NCH) for treatment and the other two admitted to Sardar Hospital, Bardoli.

Prabhua Rama Halpati, 35, got up early morning and was going out to wash his face. To his surprise, a leopard which was sitting inside the house jumped on him and injured him on the face, chest and left hand. Prabhu managed to escape from the grip of the leopard. The leopard then entered the adjoining residence of Nagar Bhikha Halpati, 30, and injured him on chest. Both of them were shifted to NCH, Surat in a critical condition.

It then attacked Ketan Govind Halpati, 20, who was standing outside his residence in the neighbourhood. Govind, father of Ketan, on watching this, launched an attack on the wild cat. They suffered injuries on many parts of their body, including hand in the attack.

Govind smashed his land digging tool on the head of an aggressive leopard, which tore it off. The leopard fell on the ground following the deadly injuries and died.

The Unn village, which has a population of 1,500, was shocked.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Man-eating leopard caged in Girnar

Man-eating leopard caged in Girnar
The Times of India

A leopard caged at the foothills of Girnar in Junagadh on Tuesday night had killed a sadhu on Monday. It is around 10 years old and has been sent to Sakkarbaug zoo, where it will be caged for life as it has eaten a human, said forest department officials. On Monday night, Sadhu Ramratandas of Bhavnath, was killed by the big cat on the 1,950th step of Mt Girnar shrine when he was sleeping.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Man killed by leopard

Man killed by leopard
The Times of India

A man was reportedly killed by a leopard on the steps leading to Girnar shrine in Junagadh on Monday night.

According to taluka police sources, the body of a man around 30 years of age was found on Tuesday morning. It seemed he was dragged by the animal in the forest. Range forest officer Dipak Pandya who reached the spot said that body was dragged into the forest for a distance of around 80 metres. The body was sent to Junagadh hospital for postmortem.

Forest department has already put up warning signs on the steps telling people not to venture in the area in the night.

4 crocodiles caught in Itari – Sarkaria village

4 crocodiles caught in Itari – Sarkaria village
Divya Bhaskar
Briefly translated from Gujarati

Vraj river passing in Maliya Hatina Taluka got dried up due to summer heat. This resulted in to four big crocodiles moving to community areas of Sarkariya and Itari. When Local villagers informed forest department these were caught and taken to Sasan crocodile park villagers appreciated hard work put in by foresters R. D. Vansh and Dodiya for successful rescue operation.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Amreli is Junagadh's rival as host of lions in Gujarat

Amreli is Junagadh's rival as host of lions in Gujarat
DNA By Jumana Shah

Gujarat's Junagadh district seems to getting tough competition from Amreli, a neighbouring district, as a host of the coveted Asiatic lions. As many as 108 lions have been sighted in Amreli which is second only to Junagadh where 270 have been recorded. Incidentally, the Gir National Park and Sanctuary is located in Junagadh.

While Bhavnagar's grasslands are emerging as a favourite of the
king of the jungle, not a single lion has been recorded in Porbandar district.

The latest census has reported the existence of 77 cubs less than one year old, and 75 cubs aged less than three. "40% of the lion population is 'youth', similar to India's human population," Modi quipped as he announced the census results on Sunday.

Census method Modi said the world should notice the scientific approach used in the lion census by Gujarat this time. "Institutes should conduct a scientific study of this method and get it replicated in other wildlife censuses too," he added.

He said that, earlier, the census was carried out in a rather arbitrary manner, seeking input from passers-by about lion sightings and estimating their population on the basis of attacks made on other animals. But this time, the method used was technologically very robust.

According to the information given by the department, the special features of the latest census were the use of GIS, GPS and wireless technologies for effective coordination. Proper documentation was done for each observation. Through
direct sighting, the animals were identified by distinct body-marks.

Each team involved in the census was to record these body-marks, and other details such as time of the sighting, to and fro directional movement, etc, on a form prepared by the forest department. Digital pictures were also taken for the records.

Summer is the best time to conduct this exercise as the number of water resources gets restricted. Lions and other wild animals need to drink at least once in 24 hours. This makes it comparatively easy to decide the places in the jungle where the animals could collect. The available water sources and probable places where the lions could visit were surveyed during the forest department's nine-month-long pre-census exercise.

"Long ranging animals like lions are not confined to man-made ecological boundaries. Keeping this in mind, a beat was decided as the smallest geographical unit inside the Gir protected area and a village was taken as the smallest unit outside Gir," chief wildlife warden RV Asari said.

The exercise to record the numbers and movement of the lions had begun nine months back. Based on the observations made during this period, 641 probable sites were identified where the chances of finding the lions were the highest. Also, data of the hunts of the last 10 years were analysed. Gir and the adjoining areas were divided into seven regions, 28 zones, and 100 sub-zones for the census.

At the last count, 135 officers, 450 enumerators, 900 assistants, 134 volunteers, 49 photographers, 13 doctors and 12 researchers were part of the census team.

Conservation bears fruit

Modi claimed that effective conservation methods adopted by the state forest department had resulted in the significant rise in lion population. "After the unfortunate incident (poaching cases of 2007), we recruited 400 new people, trained them for better guarding of the forest, brought in motorcycles and all kinds of new technology. The results can be seen in the census data this time," Modi said. Gujarat is very proud of its heritage and population of all wildlife has increased in the last thirty years, he added.

For Kathiawar, lions are family

Last but not the least is the people's participation that was given credit for the spectacular increase in the population. "We got the maximum of people's participation in the census process this time. Lots and lots of volunteers had joined the exercise," the forest department stated.

Be that as it may, the main functionaries in lion conservation are the residents of the surrounding villages, who do not flinch when a lion kills their livestock. How possessive the villagers are about the lions is evident from this incident of 2007.

Soon after the poaching incidents in 2007, the forest department was seeking help from the villagers for better protection of the lions. The villagers said they would help the department only if it promised that it would not take away any of the lions (meaning, the relocation proposal of the central government).

"'You do not worry about the lions preying on our livestock, that is our internal issue. The lions are part of our family; we can deal with them. But don't take them away,' the villagers told me. I was totally impressed by their humane legacy," Modi said.

Other wildlife in Gir sanctuary

Much as the king of the jungle gets the lion's share of attention, one should not overlook the other wildlife which keep the ecosystem robust. Principal secretary, department of environment and forests, Gujarat, SK Nanda said all volunteers had reported sighting large numbers of sambars, retells and porcupines. "The population of Sambar is estimated to be around 48,000, there are 250 leopards in the Gir forests and 1,070 all over Gujarat," he said.

Lions hold their ground in Gir forests

Lions hold their ground in Gir forests
DNA By Jumana Shah

Going against the global trend of depleting numbers of big cats in the wild, the population of Asiatic Lions in the Gir forests of Saurashtra has increased by 14.5% in the past five years.

The 13th Asiatic Lions population estimate has revealed that the total population of the big cats is 411 in the Greater Gir region (including 1,300 sq km of protected forest) which is spread over nearly 5,000 sq km in four districts.

The 2005 census had pegged the population at 359, but with an increase of 52 animals in the next five years. But, the Asiatic lion population in Gir now stands at 411.

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, who made this announcement on Sunday as part of the Swarnim Gujarat celebrations in the state capital, said the good health of the lion population in Gir proves that it is the best example of successful wildlife conservation in the country, and perhaps, the world.

"Their numbers have almost doubled since 1979," the chief minister said. "The increase in lion population between 2001 and 2005 was 5-7%. But in the last five years, despite some unfortunate incidents [eight deaths due to poaching], the lion population has increased by over 13%, which is the highest ever rise." He added that this is "a gift to the globe".

The maximum number of lions —297— were sighted in the Gir National Park, sanctuary and adjoining areas.

The second highest sightings (53) were in Savarkundla, Liliya and adjoining areas of Amreli and Bhavnagar districts.

This indicates that lions have now found a new home here and seem to be favouring the grasslands of Bhavnagar. Girnar Sanctuary recorded 25 animals and, interestingly, lions have ventured as far as the coastal areas of Kodinar, Una, Sutrapada and Chhara, which recorded 21 lions.

Unlike in the human world, female dominance seems to be increasing in the jungle. The male-female ratio has been estimated at a healthy 1:1.67.

As many as 162 lionesses and 97 males were seen. "Lionesses dominate the jungle. We hope human society will learn from lions here," Modi chuckled, indicating the global concern over the declining numbers of the girl child.

Conceding that the lions migrated out of the forest to surrounding areas, the chief minister said they have found small habitats among human habitation and both humans and lions seem to be content with a life of co-existence.

Roaring success: Lion count in Gujarat up by 52 since 2005

Roaring success: Lion count in Gujarat up by 52 since 2005
The Times of India

Increased numbers, improved sex ratio and more areas conquered — the lion king is healthy and prospering in Gujarat. Chief minister Narendra Modi declared the lion census figures of 2010 on Sunday, which showed that there were 411 of the big cats in Gir sanctuary and surrounding areas. The figure shows a jump of 52 over the previous census in 2005.

The lion is reclaiming territory much further away from the Gir sanctuary than originally thought. As many as 33 big cats were counted 250 km from Gir National Park in semi-forested areas of Mahuva and Palitana in Bhavnagar.

No less than 74 lions are now roaming outside the sanctuary near human habitation. These are fast turning into the new habitats of the big cat. Coastal areas of Rajula and Jafrabad in Amreli have also recorded sizable population.

Wildlife experts are excited about a number of findings. For instance, there are 97 males and 162 females. The rest are cubs. Youth power seems to be on the rise as there were 77 lions aged less than one year. Another 75 of them are categorized as sub-adult cubs in the age group of 1-3 years. Modi said the maximum number of lions, 297, were found in Gir National Park and adjoining areas.

The sex ratio too has improved. While there were 1.2 females for every male in 2005, the 2010 census put the number at 1.67 females for every male. Taking a dig at the skewed sex ratio in several parts of the country, including Gujarat, Modi said humans should take a lesson or two from the lions. Among their new dens, the lions have shown a special liking for Girnar sanctuary. Established in 2007, the new abode has 24 lions. In the 2005 census Girnar was not a sanctuary.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Leopard skin scam key accused to take lie detector test

Leopard skin scam key accused to take lie detector test
The Times of India By Pramod Panwar
Print Edition

The forest department of Sabarkantha has decided to put the key accused in the leopard skin trade scam Babu Modiya and his brother-in-law Soma Kotad under the polygraph (lie detector test) to recover the carcass, nails, whiskers of the leopard, which these men had killed and skinned it. The accused were trying to sell off the skin when the scam was busted on March 31 during a sting operation by forest department.

After the arrest of Modiya, the key conspirator; on April 15, Kotad was arrested on April 28 from Mohanpur village near Durgapur in Rajasthan. Primary investigation revealed that 10 months ago Modiya and his two accomplices including Kotad killed the leopard near the valley of flowers on th Rajasthan border; they sold off its nails and buried the remains of its body ear Nalva village in Rajasthan.

"We have not be able to extract any further useful information from the duo. Even after taking Modiya and Kotad to different spots in the forest, we could not get them to divulge any useful information regarding the body parts of the dead leopard or any previous killings of wildlife that they may have made," admitted assistant conservator of forests Sabarkantha RM Desai.

"Both Modiya and Kotad are misleading investigators. They have not led them to the exact place where they buried the carcass of the big cat 10 months ago. We are left with no other alternative but to put both the accused through a lie detection test," Desai said.

"Our counterparts in Rajasthan suspect the duo's involvement in previous poaching cases within their jurisdiction. We are trying to increase their remand period for the lie detection test," he added

In the first ever sting operation carried out by the forest department, an old leopard skin was recovers on March 31 night. In a joint operation of Intelligence Bureau officials and the forest department, four members of a gang, which was into animal skin trade, were arrested.

Lion census: Gujarat’s pride crosses 400

Lion census: Gujarat's pride crosses 400
Indian Express

There is good news for the country: the Asiatic lion population has increased. Chief Minister Narendra Modi announced this in Gandhinagar on Sunday. Compared to the last count in 2005, there has been an increase of 52, taking the total to 411 this year.

What's more: lions can now be found outside the Gir National Park and Sanctuary area, in the four districts of Amreli, Bhavnagar, Porbandar and Junagadh. This is what is now called the Bruhud (greater) Gir region. The Census has also found 77 cubs in the Gir National Park and Sanctuary, 46 sub-adult lions (23 males and as many females), 29 unidentified lions, 162 adult females and 97 adult males. Moreover, there has been a 40 per cent increase in the sub-adult population. The lioness and cub ratio is 1:2, which has always been the other way round, said Forest officials.

Savarkundla, Liliya and the adjoining areas of Amreli and Bhavnagar districts have 43 lions between them; the coastal areas of Una, Kodinar, Sutrapada and Chhara have 21 big cats. Altogether, there are 76 lions—21 females and 26 males—in the greater Gir region.

Modi said: "The lion population has increased due to public participation. In1968, there were only 177 big cats. The Census methodology followed by the forest staff should be institutionalized, as it had a scientific approach. This can help Forest departments in other states as well. After several poaching cases were recorded, certain initiatives were taken to safeguard the lions such as raising the walls of the wells. Last year, only one cub died after it fell into a well.

Prior to this, over 10 cubs died annually after falling into wells. The male-female ratio this time is 1:1.67. The average growth of the lion population has increased to 13 per cent, which is much higher than the previous average of five to 10 per cent."

R V Asari, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Wildlife, said: "It is good that the rate of survival of females, sub-adults and cubs is higher than before. The lions were found healthier in the census.

The population is quite stable in the Bhavnagar grasslands, while there has been an increase of the big cats in Rajula and Jaffrabad. Apart from the 270 lions sighted in Junagadh, 108 were seen in Amreli."

He added "We have tried to be as precise as possible using Global Information System (GIS) maps for each of the beats that were divided between the volunteers. The GIS maps were prepared nine months ago and showed volunteers the water points, the wells and the geography of the area. Each volunteer was taught the methods to identify lions in the sanctuary."

Junagadh was the place were royals used to hunt the big cats. It was the Nawab of Junagadh who had first imposed a ban on lion killing in his state during the British Raj. In the 1960s, the Gir forest, the last abode of the Asiatic lion, was converted into a National Park and Sanctuary. "In 1936, the Nawab of Junagadh had conducted a census, and counted lions through their pugmarks. The population estimate during that time touched 200, but it dwindled in the late 60s," Asari said, adding, "It is after three decades that the lion population has shown positive growth."

Lion count tempers tiger gloom

Lion count tempers tiger gloom
The Telegraph

Amid the gloom of 1,411, has come the joy of 411.

Gir's Asiatic lion population has jumped to 411, heartening animal lovers but also giving Narendra Modi a chance to reaffirm his opposition to lion relocation outside Gujarat.

The chief minister today announced the lion population had jumped 14.4 per cent from the 359 counted by the 2005 census, adding: "This heartening news is Gujarat's gift to the world."

The result of the latest census, carried out from April 24 to 27, comes after reports that the country's tiger population has declined to 1,411. Wildlife experts' happiness will, however, be tempered by Modi ruling out any relocation of the lions — "Gujarat's pride". Experts have advocated relocation citing the overcrowding and low gene diversity at Gir.

Modi, however, seized on the "record" growth to claim credit for his wildlife policies, such as the covering up of wells. "We used to lose 10 cubs on an average every year to the open wells. Last year, we lost only one," he said.

He cited a second reason too: the high female-to-male ratio of 1.67:1 among the lions. "The incidents of male lions devouring cubs have decreased with the females bunching together to ward off such attempts," Modi said.

India says numbers of Asiatic Lion rise

India says numbers of Asiatic Lion rise
AFP via Yahoo! Canada News

An endangered lion that survives only in the Gir Forest of western India has increased in number to more than 400 due to decades of conservation work, local officials said.

The Asiatic Lion once roamed across southwest Asia but is now restricted to the 1,410 square kilometre (545 square mile) Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary and surrounding jungle.

In the late 1960s only about 180 were thought to survive due to hunting.

A growth rate increase from up to seven percent in 2005 to almost 13 percent in 2010 was "remarkable," Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi told reporters on Sunday.

"According to the census at present there are 411 lions in the Gir forest," he added.

A count conducted last month found 162 mature females, 97 mature males, and 152 cubs.

Chief Conservator of Forests Pradeep Khanna said that the number of female and young lions was encouraging and the male to female ratio was a "very good indicator".

"The population composition was found to be healthy," Khanna said, adding that protection of wells had been an important part of improving the lions' habitat.

Government conservation schemes, anti-poaching measures and good grass growth were also credited with the lions' partial recovery.

The IUCN international register of endangered species rates the Asiatic Lion as a unique sub-species that was critically endangered in 2000. In 2008 it improved its assessment, describing the lion as endangered.

"Constant monitoring is required to ensure poaching levels do not increase; 34 animals were reported killed in 2007," it said in its latest report, adding some lions were reported to have died of drowning after falling down wells.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) also warned that as the lion survives in only one area it remained vulnerable to extinction from an epidemic or large forest fire.

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