Monday, June 28, 2010

Experience of Counting Lions at Gir 2010

Experience of Counting Lions at Gir 2010
By Pradip Thakkar – Participant !!

Lately, I have been counting sheep in my cozy air-conditioned bedroom of a Bangalore suburb after a long hectic day, pondering over project deadlines and unfinished technical discussions of the day. Typical of an IT professional in Bangalore. When I received a letter from Conservator of Forests granting my application for participation as a volunteer for a 2010 Census of Asiatic Lions at Gir National Park, I was excited at the idea of trading my long daily commutes on traffic-congested roads for walks in the wild looking for wildlife. Gir National Park – last abode of Asiatic Lion – conducts census (counting) of lions every five years. Per the last estimate, the number of lions exceeded 350 in this 1400 sq km sanctuary with core National Park area of over 250 sq km. It was time again to find how conservation efforts have fared for wildlife. And that would be Lion Census 2010 conducted from April 23-27. Health and population demographics of predator at the top-of-the-food-chain are a good indicator of health of habitat as well as co-habitants especially prey animals.
Among five species of lions that existed until recently – two – Barbary Lion (of Atlas Mountains in North Africa) and Cape Lion (South Africa) have been extinct in wild. A few specimens survive in captivity. While populations of other two species of African lions are sizable, they are dwindling. Asiatic Lion (the fifth and only species of Asian Lion) once roamed from southern Europe to eastern part of India through Middle-East, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and northern India. Our generation, being witness to past and present of wildlife decimation, such conservation efforts are of prime importance. And with that zeal and gratitude for being selected to participate, I headed off to Gir National Park in Saurashtra peninsula of Gujarat state – last home of Asiatic Lion. After a direct two and half hour evening flight and eight hours on the road – I reached Sasan Gir (Headquarter of Gir National Park) at four o'clock in the morning. Excitement was in the air even in wee hours of the morning with many volunteers that arrived previous evening. And there, echoes of lions roaring piercing through the silence of night. Well, these roars were from animals receiving medical care in state-of-the-art veterinary hospital located next to "Sinh Sadan" (A Jungle Lodge run by Government).
Sinh Sadan was the center of all activities for Lion Census 2010. Right on time, desks were set-up for registration where badges and kits were issued along with instructions for participation. Kits contained a bag-packs stuffed with dry foods, water bottles, hygienic needs (e.g. soap, etc.), T-shirt, cap, stationary (pencils, note-pads, etc.) and one camera per team. Volunteers were split in groups of three and each group was assigned a "range". Each range is looked after regularly by a forest officer with his team of beat-guards. This team of conservators regularly check on wild animals, provide medical care (if need be) to them and apply/enforce regulations that protect against encroachments, disturbances and more importantly poaching. After a nice lunch, each group of volunteers was escorted in open safari vehicle by respective range officer to the assigned range. Once we reached our location, the fun began. That was a start of our long three day journey into forest looking for "Savaj" as the locals call their beloved beast.
For three nights and two days, volunteers lived and moved around with forest ranger and beat-guards throughout the days and nights. Summer days under hot sun and cool nights under moon-light looking for clues to locate lions in the range. Clues include pug-marks, scats, listening for alarm calls of herbivores and roars of lions. Each range constitute of several square kilometers. Due to summer season, the rivers had mostly receded into large puddles and green trees with shades only to be found only on river banks. The king of beasts hunts in cooler weather of night or early morning and rests under a shade of a tree near water during the day. That makes the task of location somewhat manageable. During the day, we tirelessly hiked in river beds checking under shades of surrounding trees near water holes and looking for recent pug-marks. At night, we moved around listening to alarm calls of herbivores and roars of lions. When we tired, we re-tired. Resting under shadow of a tree in the day time and sleeping in open plains or on a "machan" under a moon light at night with one of us staying awake taking turns to be a look-out. While a fabulous bird-paradise in day time, night turns into purrs, hoots, roars, screeches, screams, yelps and rustlings.
We sighted several lions (volunteers are not allowed to disclose the count) – several resting under shaded trees in day time – and a few moving about near water holes at night time. We saw few leopards, many bird species, some reptiles (Russell 's viper and Crocodile) and many herbivores of different kinds – spotted dear, sambar deer, blue-bull and so on.
The method of counting lions was transparent where volunteers along with ranger and beat-guards submit pictures and reports (time, GPS location, identification marks, etc.) for each sighting to Conservator of Forest after primary and secondary counts were completed. This input is cross-verified with inputs from other teams of volunteers/ranger/beat-guards to make sure that same lion is not counted twice as it may move across the range. Method used for counting is reliable as it is based on uniquely identifying each animal with GPS location and time of sighting.
The most memorable experience of this trip to Gir was the interaction with locals. They are the strongest asset for conservation – both for conservators and lions. It is no surprise as to why Asiatic lion has not only survived but also thrived in this part of the world while being extinct everywhere else. Love for the beast is the religion of locals, no matter which part of Gir you are in. Lion is their beloved animal and despite loss of their live-stock as prey, they fiercely protect, advocate and champion conservation. I have not seen such dedication to conservation among locals in any part of the world let alone in India. Saurashtra and Savaj are synonymous. In long tradition from days of King Ashoka through Nawab of Junagadh, Asiatic Lion has found sanctuary in Gir. And in post-independence India, in my humble opinion, conservation at Gir National Park – with credit to both government agencies and locals – is a model to be followed for rest of India.
Notes: As I have visited Gir on several occasions prior to Census 2010 with research interests – following two are my crucial observations that could use further investigation as a research topic for doctoral candidates in Zoology.

1. After careful review/observation of physical traits of several lions in and around Gir National Park and Sanctuary, I have come to believe that there are at least two sub-species of this magnificent beast generally categorized as a single species of Panthera Leo Persica. The key difference in physical appearance is marked by size of the head and structure of the body. I categorize the lions that I have observed thus far into two distinct physical traits: One set of lions with larger "head size-to-body length" ratio with shorter body length from head-to-tail, and another set of lions with smaller "head size-to-body length" ratio with longer body length from head-to-tail. Even local folk-lore supports this thought of possible two distinct sub-species with anecdotal terms such as "Gadhado" and "Veliyo". Unlike in Africa where sub-species are separated by large distance, in Gir due to compressed geography, there may have been some natural cross-breeding among these sub-species. Further investigation of this conjecture of possible two sub-species of Panthera Leo Persica requires genetic and skeletal studies of samples from farther fringes of Gir National Park and Sanctuary where feature differentiation may be more pronounced.

2. Not in too distant past, Gir National Park and Sanctuary were inhabited by jungle-dwelling cattle headers locally named "Mal-dhaari". Their small habitations locally named "Nes" dotted across the forest lands. They lived in co-habitation with lions and other wildlife of Gir. Their cattle grazed in the forests and often attacked/killed by lions. As the conservation movement grew stronger and more organized with backing of government as well as foreign agencies such as WWF, the co-habitation of Mal-dhaari and Lions was viewed as "Man-Animal" conflict and it was deemed necessary to remove human presence (Mal-dhaari) from Gir. It was deemed that reduced or no human presence is conducive to wild-life growth. This seems intuitively right conservation step in interest of wildlife.
Due to fantastic conservation efforts, while overall lion population has increased significantly over past decades, there seems to be an uneven distribution of lion population density across Gir National Park and Sanctuary. Decades after removal of Mal-dhaari from some ranges of Gir, in my observation result achieved is reverse of the intention. And here is one plausible theory as to why removal of Mal-dhaari may have been detrimental to lion population density in respective range. Lion is an animal of savannah and not of thick forest. Lion's hunting style is not of a stealth-mode like that of tiger or leopard. Mal-dhaari cattle grazing kept forest floor clear of growth in these ranges and hence they were savannah with open plains and grass-lands. Also, lions found easier prey among Mal-dhaari cattle. Once Mal-dhaari and cattle were removed out of some ranges of Gir, the forest vegetation patterns there have changed.  It has turned into thick forest not quite suitable for hunting practice of a lion. Many parts of these forest thickets have thorny bushes and hence not conducive to hunting by chase. It is more conducive to stealth-mode hunting - like that of a leopard. While I do not have exact range-by-range break-down of changes in vegetation patterns and corresponding lion-count of Gir for past decades, such data can be obtained under research permit and studied for correlation. Anecdotal data suggests that ranges where Mal-dhaari have been removed, vegetation patterns have changed along with reduction in population density of lion and increase in population density of leopards. Astute conservators must objectively look into this matter to better preserve and protect lions. Actions that seemed intuitively correct for welfare of wild-life decades ago shall be analyzed post-effect to determine further course of action. It is an open-secret among locals that lion population density has increased among areas of sanctuary with human habitation while reduced in core area with no human presence. Clearly, there is a need to study changing vegetation patterns of Gir along with shift in population density of lions in various ranges. Such study can guide continuing improvements in conservation strategies.

Pradip Thaker

15 held for selling fake wildlife skin, bones in Bhavnagar

15 held for selling fake wildlife skin, bones in Bhavnagar
Times of India

Bhavnagar district forest department on Sunday arrested around 15 men and women — mostly married couples — from the outskirts of Bhavnagar for selling fake lion and tiger skin and bones. All accused are from Karnataka.

According to range forest officer (RFO) Bhavnagar KK Bharwad, the department was tipped off by volunteers of a Bhavnagar-based nature club. The accused were selling the skin and bones to common people. "The accused sold these skins by going from house to house. They happened to sell an item to a member of nature's club, who alerted the forest department. Following this, we organised a trap and arrested them from their makeshift houses," Bharwad said.

"We have arrested 15 people, including eight women. All those arrested are from Karnataka. They arrived in Bhavnagar just two days ago. The forest department has seized all the materials that the group was selling. They used their network to reach residents and sold the skins and nails of tigers and lions," he added.

The skin and bones were sent to the department for a thorough examination, where it was verified that none of them were original. The accused purchased skins of dogs and goats from around the place where they lived. The skins were then painted and tampered with chemicals and made to look like those of tigers and lions.

"We have confirmed that all the material seized is duplicate," Bharwad said.

According to officials, it was the women's job to get clients and sell them while the males were the ones who reworked the skins. Taking note of lion poaching incidents earlier in the state, state forest department officials did not want to take chance and arrested all the people involved.

(Left) The accused in the custody of forest officials; some of the confiscated items

Great Indian bustard may soon be extinct

Great Indian bustard may soon be extinct
Times of India

It may not be long before we lose the great Indian bustard forever.The very existence of the bird, which was once touted as a strong contender to replace the peacock as the national bird in the 1960s, is in crisis. As its only habitat in Naliya in Kutch grasslands is being converted to agricultural land and thus would be lost for the bird forever.

Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh,in an letter to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on June 9, wrote that the grasslands of Kutch were one of the last remaining pockets that hold promise for recovery of great Indian bustard (GIB).

"Conservationists and researchers working in Kutch have brought to my attention the opening of areas in Abdasa grasslands in Naliya (Kutch), a prime breeding ground for the bustard, for agriculture. I am writing to request you to immediately intervene and prevent the diversion of revenue gauchar land (grassland) to agriculture, and to ensure that the district officials support the Naliya conservation initiatives.If we do not intervene, the possibility of the bustard becoming extinct in Gujarat is very real and high," Ramesh wrote.

He further mentioned, "A researcher also forwarded a photograph that clearly shows the marking for new agricultural plot."

There are 22 species of bustards in the world, 16 of which are found in Africa. Indian subcontinent had six species: GIB, houbara or Macqueen's bustard, lesser florican and Bengal florican, but in the last 80 years, there has been no record of the existence of the Great and Little bustards.Houbara bustard is purely migratory and seen in arid parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat during winters.

A recent study by Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (Geer) foundation had revealed that bustards were distributed over 996 sq km with a core area of 97 sq km. However, only 2 sq km was protected as a sanctuary. The study suggested that Kanothia, Kalatalav,Bhachunda,Vinghaber and Parjau, which are revenue areas, be acquired under forest land rules.

Destruction of GIB's habitat was the major cause, apart from hunting, of their dwindling numbers. Grasslands, the bustards prime habitat, were under tremendous pressure from overgrazing, expanding agricultural fields and urbanisation. The state till date does not have a clearcut grazing policy. If grasslands were protected under bustard protection, they would provide fodder to livestock once the bustard breeding season is over.

| Windmill installation has been taking a toll on important habitats in Lala, Budia, Jakhau and Vanku, Parjau villages. Fencing by windmill as well as erection of allied electric wire networks has caused loss of grassland areas.

ENCROACHMENT | Agriculture encroachment on revenue village land of Kanothia, Bhachunda, Kanatalav, Bhanada and Vinghaber. This activity led to more movement of vehicles and people.

UNDESIRABLE HABITAT MANAGEMENT PRACTICES | Number of grassland management activities carried out by forest department and NGOs in the area lead to loss or change of GIB habitat. TRENCHING AND BUNDING | Many grass or fodder plots have been developed by forest department and NGOs by trenching areas in middle of large grassland patches. Being a bird of flat grasslands, Indian Bustard prefers areas with high visibility. Therefore, these plots result in undesirable habitats.

PONDS FOR MOISTURE CONSERVATION IN PRIME GRASSLAND AREAS | Forest department and NGOs have prepared many small ponds for rainwater harvesting structures to conserve moisture in the middle of grassland patches. These structures disturb topography of grassland habitat.

PLOUGHING OF GRASSLAND DURING BREEDING SEASON | It was observed that some grassland areas were ploughed during monsoon and post-monsoon season for planting better species of grass and their growth. Such activities create a great disturbance to nests, eggs or chicks of Indian Bustard.

PLANTATION OF ANOTHER GRASS SPECIES | In some areas, grass plots for fodder are being developed by planting palatable species in Indian Bustard range.

RESEARCH ON MOVEMENT PATTERN | The birds are likely to move from Thar desert along edges of Great Rann of Kutch and reach open, sparse grassland patches of Little Rann of Kutch and some degraded grasslands in Surendranagar district. They are then likely to move to grasslands of Velavadar National Park.

INVOLVE LOCAL COMMUNITY | Since bustards move over a large area, local communities should be mobilised and involved in conservation efforts.

Bustards thrive in a grassland, scrubland ecosystem. To improve their habitat, trees could be planted to maintain savannah characteristics. Also, excavation of ponds and trenches should be stopped and Prosopis Juliflora, commonly known as gando baval, be removed as the thorny shrub injures the bird.

They are needed to garner support and enlighten people about the sentiments of various stakeholders interested in conservation of the bird and grassland ecosystem.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lioness dies in Kankaria zoo

Lioness dies in Kankaria zoo
Times of India

The friendly lioness Okha, 18, at Kamla Nehru Zoological Garden in Kankaria who celebrated her birthday a week ago, died on Friday afternoon.

Okha was a hybrid breed of Asian-African lion family. She was one among the four cubs born in the zoo in 1992 to lion couple Shankar-Parvati.

On the death, zoo superintendent, RK Sahu said, "Okha was not keeping well and had stopped eating food. On her last day, she suffered massive seizure attacks. In the guidance of zoo doctors, Okha was given life-saving injections. She responded well."
Sahu added, "We started treatment under the guidance of experts from Anand Veterinary College. However, again on Friday afternoon, Okha started shaking rapidly and uncontrollably and later collapsed." Recollecting about Okha, Sahu said, "She was bottlefeeded after her mother died few days after giving birth. She was popular among kids and not very ferocious in nature."

The average life of lion is around 15-16 years. Okha's dead body has been sent to Anand Veterinary college for postmortem. "The preliminary report suggests death due to old age and mengatis, an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord," said Sahu.

The dead body will be cremated as per guidelines of Central Zoo Authority. At present, the zoo has one pair of Asiatic lions Ambaradi-Pooja and one African hybrid lion, Ganesh.

Tourists increase after Big B shot in Gir

Tourists increase after Big B shot in Gir
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

Many Want To Travel To Spots Where Bachchan Shot For The Ad Film

Superstar Amitabh Bachchan's visit to the Gir Sanctuary has evoked a new kind of interest in the Asiatic lion's abode. Tourists who are thronging Gir after Big B shot for an ad film are demanding to travel the "Amitabh route" in the sanctuary to spot lions exactly the way he did.

Bachchan just finished shooting an advertisement in Gir for Gujarat Tourism Corporation. And, though there is still time for the ad to be telecast, the visitors to Gir have already increased by 100 per day. There are six designated routes in Gir of which Amitabh shot on four and posted pictures of lions at close quarters, on his blog.

A taxi driver told TOI, "Among the many tourists who wanted to see spots where Amitabh shot, there was a businessman and his family of 12 who insisted that I take them on the route where Bachchan shot. However, on not spotting lions, the family insisted on being taken around to other spots where Big B had shot."

However, the sanctuary was closed from June 1 to 5 as Bachchan was shooting there and reopened only for 10 days before it closed again for the mating season in the monsoon.

Deputy conservator of forest (DCF) Sandeep Kumar admits that the last 10 days of the tourist season saw a mad rush. "Before Bachchan's visit about 60-65 vehicle permits were issued, but from the day he left the number of permits issued went over 85." Going by the average of six adults allowed per tourist cab, the number of tourists per day increased by at least 150.

However Kumar did not rule out the fact that the rush could be attributed to the summer vacation coming to an end. However, a beat guard who has been associated with the issuing of the permits said, "Usually such mad rush is not seen at the time of the closure of the sanctuary. There is always a fall in the number of visitors during June 10 to 15. But this year the rush was maddening."

Amitabh Bachchan during his recent Kutch visit

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Deserted cub rescued by forest officials

Deserted cub rescued by forest officials
Ahmedabad Mirror By Haresh Pandya

Left to fend for itself by her own mother, a lioness cub was rescued by Forest Department officials in Gir. For the past many days, the forest officials have not only been taking care of a cub, but also regularly giving milk to it.

About a fortnight ago, a lioness delivered two cubs near Lapala Hill, about seven kilometres from Khambha in eastern Gir. There is a rough road near the place where she had camped. The lioness chased people passing through the road, so the forest authorities decided to capture the lioness and her two cubs and drop them in the heart of Gir.

However, taking one cub in her mouth the lioness moved to a safer place inside the Gir. The officials expected her to return to Lapala Hill for the other cub, but she did not. Fearing that the deserted cub might die of starvation or be killed by some big lion or leopard, the officials decided to protect it while providing milk three times a dayand waiting for the lioness.

Meanwhile, a team of forest guards is looking for the lioness inside Gir.

More lions step outside Gir with the increase in the number of Asiatic lions, the big cats are finding the 1,400-sq km Gir forest woefully dense and small for their comfort. Wildlife experts say a lion needs about 20 km grassland to move comfortably. Consequently, many lions tend to step out of their principal habitat for pleasure as well as food (livestock).

Though at present the Gir sanctuary is closed for the monsoon, and there is no official lion darshan, the big cats have been found wandering outside their habitat and giving a glimpse to people.

Close on the heels of five lions found roaming on the Savarkundla-Liliya Road last week, another incident involving eight big cats camping on the outskirts of Khilawad village near Una on the periphery of Gir was reported on Tuesday morning.

As the news trickled in, people from Khilawad and nearby villages began rushing to the spot for a dekko at the pride. According to eyewitnesses, the group included a lioness with her newborn cub.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Arizona Restaurant Serves Lion Meat To Mark World Cup

Arizona Restaurant Serves Lion Meat To Mark World Cup
All Head Lines News By Kris Alingod

Mesa, AZ, United States (AHN) - An Arizona restaurant wanting to attract soccer fans following the 2010 World Cup in South African has instead caught the attention of animal rights advocates with its new offering of lion meat burger.

Il Vinaio in downtown Mesa began serving lion meat on Wednesday despite criticisms from activists and some patrons. Restaurant owner Cameron Selogie has told the Arizona Republic that the meat comes from a free-range farm in Illinois that is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But a patron and member of the restaurant's e-club, Susan Cooper, also told the newspaper, "I'm thoroughly disgusted to say the least... A beautiful, exotic creature that should be out in the wild is being killed for someone to eat as a burger."

The restaurant announced its new dish last week on its Facebook page, saying, "Don't miss your opportunity to taste real African Lion, while supplies last!" Most fans voiced support for the burgers, and condemned the threats reported by the owner.

Selogie told the Republic he has received a bomb threat and 150 e-mail messages from protesters.

"Had bomb threats and direct threats to our chef," the restaurant says in its Facebook page. "Seems animal activists favor animals over humans. I've known that for awhile. Ex-girlfriend once told me if there was an animal and a baby in a burning building, she would save the animal... thanks to all our fans... To our protestors thank you for standing up for what you believe in. In the words of Rodney King, 'why can't we all just get along?' "

Lions have a life span of 10 to 14 years and are on listed on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species as vulnerable. Their population worldwide has been reduced by 30 percent over the past two decades. Lions were once found around the African continent but they have become extinct in North Africa. They are now found only in the sub-Saharan region, according to African Wildlife Foundation.

Another subspecies once common in southwest Asia, the Asiatic lion, can now only be found in India's Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary.

Lions face a number of threats such habitat loss from commercial development and pollution, and natural occurrences such as droughts and epidemics. The most serious threats are poaching from hunters and poisoning from ranchers who want to protect their livestock or retaliate for attacks on their farm animals.

Hunters use lion hide as trophies to be made into wildlife mounts or rugs, or turn the wild cats into captive, factory-farmed animals to be used for meat or canned hunting and whose cubs are rented out to eco-tourism resorts. Canned hunting, a big industry in South Africa, involves breeders putting a tame, human-bred lion in a fenced area, or drugging the animal or using packs of dogs to help hunters kill the animal.

Il Vinaio is not the first restaurant to serve lion meat. The South Philadelphia Tap Room caught international attention in 2008 for serving lion meat. The restaurant, which reportedly used meat from Fallows Farm, the same farm that supplies Il Vinaio, was forced to stop serving its dish of lion meat in duck fat and coconut rice because of public uproar.

A Tampa-based restaurant known for its menu of bison, elk and other exotic meats, Spoto's Steak Joint, has also served lion meat.

Only one big cat left at zoo

Only one big cat left at zoo
Hindustan Times By Bhavika Jain

Jimmy, a 12-year-old lioness is the only big cat remaining in the Byculla zoo after the death of the 22-year-old lioness, Anita, on Saturday.Jimmy is a hybrid between an African and Asiatic breed.She was born on March 28, 1998 in the zoo.

"After Anita, Jimmy is the only big cat left in the zoo," said Dr Sanjay Tripati, zoo veterinarian.

Anita, who died due to multiple organ failure, was the only pure Asiatic breed lioness the zoo ever had.

"We would give her multi-vitamin injections, every day four saline bottles would be given to her, she was fed juices and soups as she refused to eat solid food," said Dr Komal Pawar, the veterinarian in the zoo.

"She was a huge attraction to the children who visited the zoo," said Tripathi.
The life span of lions in captivity is 20 years while wild lions live for 15-16 years.
Until 2005, the Mumbai zoo was home to at least three species of large cats which included two white tigers, five leopards and three lions.

In 2005, the zoo lost both its tigers — Sunny and Supriya. The five leopards died due to old age, zoo officials said.

Another male lion Amar died in 2007 due to a prolonged disease. Amar, a hybrid between African and Asiatic lion, died young when he was just eight.
Amar was brought from the Hyderabad zoo in 2003.

He was suffering from kidney dysfunction. According to zoo vets, Amar had shown signs of weak kidney for over two years and was being treated for it.

Lion cub found dead in Amreli

Lion cub found dead in Amreli
Times of India

A lion cub was found dead near Macchundri river in Hadala range of Gir east area (Dhari) in Amreli district on Monday night. According to senior forest officials in Gir east (Dhari), a local resident spotted the carcass and told the forest department about it.

Forest officials who rushed to the spot said, "The cub was a female, three to four months old. We have sent the dead animal for the post-mortem report to a medical facility in Sasan Gir. Only after the postmortem report, we will be able to know the exact cause of death."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Vulture population may have shrunk to less than 1,000 Count Is Expected To Register A Drop Of 35 Per Cent Over Last Census Figure Of 1,431

Vulture population may have shrunk to less than 1,000
Count Is Expected To Register A Drop Of 35 Per Cent Over Last Census Figure Of 1,431

Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

The vulture count in the state may for the first time plummet to three digits, registering a drop of over 35 per cent over the last count in 2007 that was 1,431. The good news, however, is that the city of Ahmedabad has more or less maintained its count of 270 vultures.

Sources involved in the count said that the city of Ahmedabad, specially Gujarat University, Pirana and cantonment areas, have recorded a count of 150 vultures and the remaining 80 were spread over the rest of the district. In 2007, Ahmedabad district had recorded presence of 279 vultures, which was 25 more than the 2005 census.

A conservationist, Aditya Roy, said that there was no conservation efforts in Ahmedabad as there were in Bhavnagar and Surat districts, but Ahmedabad had the best rescue perations for vultures and all injured birds were usually sent to Sakkarbagh zoo for treatment.

Interestingly for the first time, the city of Gandhinagar too has reported the count of 18 vultures. There was no presence of vultures reported from the capital in 2005 and 2007.
However, the initial trends from other part of the state were not so encouraging. The overall figure may well dip to below 1000. Sources said the count was 2,647 in 2007 and this fell to 1,431 in 2009. It was now expected to dip further.

Sources said that the initial trend were projecting a figure somewhere between 900-1,000. The areas, which have not seen major decline, were Sarbarkantha, Valsad, Junagadh, Amreli, Bhavnagar and the Dangs.

State forest department officials said that the major decline was in Kutch, which has seen a fall of over 200 per cent. Forest department officials said Kutch which had accounted for 462 birds in 2007 count may have only 250 of them, a decease of about 210 vultures.

Voluntary organisations, students take lead in preservation

Students have joined hands with volunteers to save nature's scavengers in Surat and Bhavnagar. The students not only help in creating awareness for vulture preservation but also in maintaining feeding sites.

In Mahuva, students have taken the lead in this work. Vulture cell of Bird Conservation Society of India has started an education campaign in the area, says Ruchi Dave from the org a n i s a - tion.

Students in Asarana village in Mahuva ensure that farmers do not use Diclofenac for animal treatment to do their but for the dwindling population. They also take care of a feeding site developed at the outskirts of the village.

"There are 20-odd students involved in this work. With the help of a village butcher, we collect all dead animals and bring them to the feeding site. The butcher removes the skin and leaves the remaining portion for the vultures. After three to four days, we clear the site by removing bones," said Riyani Chetan, a student.

Shenal Patel of Surat Nature Club, says, "The figure in Surat was around 80 and this year it has remained the same. We maintain a feeding site where carcasses free from use of diclofenac are dumped."
He added that students have also joined the campaign. "We created awareness in 12 schools and today these students help us. Against the expenditure of over 12 lakhs, forest department gives around Rs 1.5 lakh. A lot needs to be done to save the vultures," said Patel.

Panel to save vultures has met only once

The state government has failed to react in taking appropriate action. A volunteer associated with the vulture conservation said, "After lion poaching, the government announced a package of Rs 40 crore, but the situation is worse for vultures." He said after the 2007 figures were revealed, the government formed a vulture conservation committee comprising government officals, NGO representatives and experts. Shantilal Varu, a member of the committee, said, "A meeting was held once after the panel was formed. Since then, there has been no action. Recently, we got a circular that few members have been added."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Two leopards fall in well, one dies

Two leopards fall in well, one dies
Times of India

An open well in a farm in Govindpur village of Dhari taluka of Amreli district claimed the life of a leopard, while another leopard was rescued on Saturday.

According to the forest department, the incident was reported from the farm of Kishore. "As per the farmer's statement, two leopards chasing a calf rushed towards the farm. Unable to spot the well, which had no barricades, they fell in it. While we could tranquillise and save one leopard, the other drowned," said a forester, adding that the big cat's carcass had been sent for post-mortem.


Times of India

Big cats take a stroll on this Amreli road, command respect of locals

A pride of lions was captured in the lens of wildlife photographer Dilip Jiruka as they swaggered along a road passing through Bhuva village in Amreli on Saturday afternoon. The stretch falls in the Gir sanctuary area.

It was a sight to behold — lions and humans sharing the same space amicably. The big cats did not attack passers-by as they moved along at a leisurely pace for about two hours. "They seemed to be enjoying their time in the rain during a brief spell," Jiruka said.

Forest officers said the lions often take this stretch to go to Shetrunji river for a drink. They even sit down on the road, blocking traffic for hours. Interestingly, as the lions moved without fear, the locals, who are now used to these beasts in their neighbourhood, were equally calm in their presence.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Leopard dies after falling into well

Leopard dies after falling into well
Indian Express

An eight-year old male leopard was rescued by the forest department from a well in Saurasthra region, while another two-year old female who also fell in the same well died.

The leopard died in Govindpur village of Dhari taluka in Amreli district near the Gir forest after falling into well, while the eight-year-old male leopard was rescued, forest department officials said.

"Eleven officials were deployed for the rescue operation in which just the male leopard could be rescued," they added.

Meanwhile, a seven-month-old leopard cub was rescued from a farm well by forest department officials in the same district.

The cub was rescued after a seven-hour effort in Tankal village, about 150 km from Vadodara, on Friday, officials said.

Veterinary doctors are treating the cub and it will be kept under observation for some time before being released, forest officials said.

The cub fell in the well around 4 am. A woman, who was passing from the area, alerted the forest department.A team, led by Range Forest Officer A Kedariya, rushed to the spot and launched a rescue operation. "They rescued the wild cat with the help of a net and a cage and took it to the nearby forest division office for treatment," the officials added.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Forest department plans breeding centres to widen Gir lions’ prey base

Forest department plans breeding centres to widen Gir lions' prey base
Indian Express

The Forest Department has hinted at the possibility of Asiatic lions expanding their territory across Saurastra in a few years. But there is no long-term conservation plan per se to deal with the burgeoning population, besides setting up a few breeding centres.

Officials say there are two urgent requirements for Asiatic lions to avoid man-animal conflict in newer territories — food and water.

But other than M S University, no other body has documented the flora of Gir, which affects the migration pattern of herbivores, which form the prey base of these big cats.

To avoid human conflicts with the big cats, the Forest Department is now planning to start a breeding centre for herbivores in the Umath area of Rajkot district to ensure a healthy prey base for the lions.

Officials say the rising lion population may cause a problem for the leopards too, which in its turn might increasingly target livestock in the surrounding villages.

Every year, the Forest Department pays huge amount as compensation to tribals whose livestocks are killed by leopards. Even Maldharis in Brihud Gir face similar problems, officials say.

Chief Conservator of Forest S K Chaturvedi refused to comment on the conservation plan, but said: "We are trying to prepare ourselves for the imminent problems. Two breeding centres for spotted deer were started in Barda and Rampara area last year."

He added that the Forest Department recently conducted SCAT analysis for the big cats of Brihud Gir to study their diet patterns and to carry out methods of breeding their prey accordingly.

The phenomenon of dispersal is evident north of Palitana and West of the Gir National Park and Sanctuary. The population of sub-adult male lions too are rising; the lions are more ferocious in the newer areas as they have to fight for their territories. But the Forest Department is still using its old management plan. It will take yet another year for the newer management plan to be in place.

Chaturvedi said, "We have started plantations to provide shelter to the lions in the newer areas of dispersal, along with water bodies."

New uniform for forest officials in Gir

New uniform for forest officials in Gir
Times of India

The forest officials manning the only abode of Asiatic lion, Gir sanctuary, will soon don smart uniforms. Faculty of National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) Gandhinagar, has been put on the job by the forest department to design uniforms that match their harsh job profile.

However, the institute has been asked to retain the khaki colour. "The big cats are used to seeing the men in khaki and do not harm our men. There have been some attacks on villagers, but attacks on forest officials are extremely rare," said a senior forest department official.

Forest officials said that there were about 500 range forest officers and beat guards, who would wear the new dresses. These constitute the field staff. "We have realised that a person going in the field was carrying a stick and his wireless set and now a GPS system. But apart from the pockets in his pants there was nothing to carry and hence we have asked them to have some special provisions for the these devises. We have also asked NIFT to design some comfortable shoes too," the official said.

Vishal Gupta, assistant professor at NIFT, said that they had sent a team to the Gir sanctuary to understand more about the nature of the job of the range forest officials, forest officials and beat guards for whom the uniforms were to be designed.

Accordingly, NIFT team had zeroed in on fabric which is light keeping in the mind that it remains hot for majority of the year in that part of the state. Most importantly, the institute would be using anti-bacterial and stain-resistant fabric, which had been developed to enable the officials cope with long working hours outdoors. "These uniforms can do without daily washing and would not get dirty easily," said Gupta.

He added that while the current uniform was from the British Raj days, the new uniform would be more structured and include lot of customised pockets to fit in the accessories carried by the forest officials on duty. "These include mobile phones, binoculars, GPS devices, wireless sets and other instruments," said Gupta.

NIFT authorities said the prototypes of uniforms would be ready in a fortnight and the project was likely to be commissioned in three months time once the trial runs were over.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lioness gives birth to 3 cubs

Lioness gives birth to 3 cubs
Times of India

A lioness has given birth to three cubs in the Gir forest region of Jafrabad taluka in the district, forest officials said on Tuesday. The cubs were born on Monday night in the forest region near Nageshari village, they said. Lions are enlisted as a Schedule-1 animal under the (Indian) Wildlife Act, whose existence is considered to be on the verge of extinction. The Gir forest is spread in three districts of Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar, and is considered to be the last abode of Asiatic lions. Earlier this month, a lioness had died after falling in a well in Khamba taluka.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lioness gives birth to 3 cubs in Gir forest

Lioness gives birth to 3 cubs in Gir forest
Press Trust of India

A lioness has given birth to three cubs in the Gir forest region of Jafrabad taluka in the district, forest officials said today.

The cubs were born last night in the forest region near Nageshari village, they said.

Lions are enlisted as a Schedule-1 animal under the (Indian) Wildlife Act, whose existence is considered to be on the verge of extinction.

The Gir forest is spread in three districts of Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar, and is considered to be the last abode of Asiatic lions.

According to the lion census conducted between April 24- 27 early this year, there were 411 lions in Gir forests, which included 162 females and 97 males, 77 cubs less than one-year- old and 75 cubs aged between one to three years.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Two leopards found dead in Visavadar

Two leopards found dead in Visavadar
Times of India

Carcasses of two leopards were found from two separate spots in Visavadar taluka of Junagadh district under mysterious circumstances. While the forest department is awaiting postmortem reports to pinpoint the cause of death, the department has confirmed that there were no external injury marks on them.

Sources said, a male leopard, about two years old, was found dead in a grazing land on the border of Bhalgam and Jhanjesar village in the taluka on Thursday. A day later, carcass of another young male leopard was found 2.5 km away in Jambuda village. Range forest officer LM Kandoriya said, "The circumstances of the deaths of both animals are mysterious. There are no injury marks on any of the bodies. We called veterinary doctors and forensic experts and have sent the viscera for forensic examination. Only after the reports come in, we will be able to give an exact cause of death. Whatever it is, it appears to be internal."

Two leopard carcasses recovered

Two leopard carcasses recovered
The Hindu

Carcasses of two male leopards have been recovered from Bhalgam-Zanzesar and Jambuda villages, raising concern over increasing number of wild animal deaths in the Visavadar area of Junagadh district.

The wild cats were recovered recently and postmortem conducted on a 2-year-old leopard from Zanzesar ruled that it died due to food poisoning.

Forest officials also recovered the decomposed carcass of a male leopard from a field in the Jamudi village subsequently. Its autopsy report is awaited.


Following this, patrolling has been intensified in these areas.

Investigations are on to establish whether these animals ate some poisonous food or were fed contaminated food as no injury marks were found on the them.

Recovery of black deer and peacocks from Visavadar area in the recent past have already sent the forest officials into a tizzy.

Baby leopard dies in road accident

Baby leopard dies in road accident
Divya Bhaskar
Briefly translated from Gujarati

A baby leopard 4 months old, was detached from its mother. In search of its mother it came on main road. An unidentified vehicle killed the baby in road accident at Khapat village near Una.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Gir Lion Sanctuary to close for visitors from June 16th

Gir Lion Sanctuary to close for visitors from June 16th
Desh Gujarat

World's only Asiatic lion sanctuary in Gujarat will be closed for visitors from 16th of June. The sanctuary will reopen on 15th of October.

Monsoon is a breeding period for lions. Moreover the sanctuary has muddy roads which are not motorable in four months of rain. Therefore the park observes closure every year during monsoon. According to Dr. Sandip Kumar, Deputy conservator of forest, both Gir wild life sanctuary and national park and Gir introduction complex of Devaliya will be closed for visitors during this period.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Tracking the tiger killers

Tracking the tiger killers
India Today By Mihir Srivastava

They are the people responsible for India's iconic animal being threatened with extinction, a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. Two nomadic hunting tribes, along with corrupt or incompetent forest officials, continue to hunt the tiger in its natural habitat using primitive traps.

The result is that tiger population figures have registered an all-time low. India has lost two-thirds of its tigers in the last eight years. Driven by greed and the money they can earn by selling tiger skin and parts to the Chinese market, India's most notorious poachers are decimating tiger populations virtually unchecked.

Sariska and Panna have lost all their tigers to poaching even as forest officials feign ignorance. Principal Correspondent Mihir Srivastava has been on the trail of the poachers to identify the main culprits, their modus operandi, their buyers and the havoc they have already caused among India's tiger population. His report:
The Pardhis and Bawariyas are nomadic hunting tribes who travel across the country to poach tigers to supply them to organized smugglers in tiger parts who feed the market in China.

They commit crimes as a family vocation, are cunning, constantly on the move, and kill tigers with religious fervour. Killing a tiger means big money, Rs 2 lakh for a tiger skin, and being adept hunters, it also means easy money, tiger parts and organs fetch another Rs 2 lakh.

What is less known about these tribes is that they indulge in other criminal activities. They also kill leopards, bears and elephants for ivory, indulge in organised theft of railways and telecom properties, are into sandalwood smuggling while some do contractual murders.

2,200: tigers were killed in the last decade. Their current population is one-third of what it was in 2000.

80: sites where wild tigers exist in India. Only 39 are tiger reserves.

16: tiger reserves are critical, heading the way of Sariska and Panna which lost all their tigers to poachers.

60: tigers a year is the demand from the Chinese market from two poaching gangs alone.

Being nomadic, they cannot be traced for their crimes. Their latest racket is land scams, and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi would be shocked to know that the men and women who are killing tigers in the state's reserves are also part of a gigantic compensation scam for the Narmada Valley Project. Pardhis have migrated en-mass from various villages in Katni district of Madhya Pradesh, a Mecca for poachers, down to Khandwa and Harda districts along the Maharashtra border to seek compensation as displaced families from the Narmada Valley Project. Some of them have actually got lakhs of rupees as compensation along with land, while others are camping there for their share of the booty.

Locals know about it but are too scared to talk. Local officials do nothing presumably because they are getting a cut. If tigers are to be saved in the forests of India, this vicious network and nexus of tribals and traders will have to be broken. It is now clear that tigers and tribals cannot live together in a forest, as was the case traditionally, for the lure of big money is impossible to resist. The poachers are hired and sent into the forests by notorious traders like Sansar Chand and Shabeer Hassan Qureshi.

Both are currently in jail and together would be responsible for 1,000 tiger deaths in the last decade but now their extended families are carrying on with tiger killings. It's a tightly knit nexus: traditional hunting families supply tiger parts to traditional families trading in wild animals. Poachers-turned-informers and some Pardhis themselves revealed the modus operandi and rewards.

Here's how the unholy nexus works-and spells doom for the tiger. The tribal hunters receive orders, estimated to be for 60 tigers a year, to be skinned and body parts collected and preserved. The hunting party, including women and children, sets off by train to the target zone.

Reaching the targeted forest, they camp in the vicinity, setting up temporary shops selling cheap jewellery as a cover. It takes them just a few days to learn about tiger movements in the area. They lay out the bait-wild animal meat-to attract tigers and conceal iron traps along the path the tiger will take to the bait.

It needs a dozen-men team to monitor the movement of the tigers and the patrolling routine of forest guards. Usually, the last patrol is around midnight and they are free to stalk the tiger undisturbed till late next morning. The success rate of tribal poachers is very high but the consequences for India's national animal are tragic and inhuman.

Lioness dies in Amreli after falling in well

Lioness dies in Amreli after falling in well
Press Trust of India

In a freak accident, a lioness from the Sasan Gir forest, died here today after falling in a well without a protective wall, forest officials said.

The incident took place in Chakrawaparah village of Khamba taluka in Amreli district when a lioness chasing her prey, a blue bull, fell into a well and died, they said.

During the chase, the blue bull also fell into the well, forest officials said.

A part of the Sasan Gir forest, the last abode of Asiatic Lions, falls in Amreli district, where lions are found roaming freely and sometime hunting their prey.

Lioness are in the category of schedule-1 species, whose existence is considered to be on the verge of extinction.

During the recently concluded census in Gir forests it was found that there are 411 lions in the area.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Amitabh Bachchan spends Thursday shooting with lions, Siddis

Amitabh Bachchan spends Thursday shooting with lions, Siddis

Thursday saw Big B not just meeting his match, but also shooting with them. In Gujarat for an ad film shoot, the Shehenshah of Bollywood spent the better part of Thursday shooting with the Kings of the jungle in the Gir forests.

He also met with members of the local Siddi tribe.

While cyclone Phet did play spoilsport on Wednesday, Thursday was far more productive, and quite a few important shots were canned, said sources from his entourage. The shot with the Siddi tribe turned out to be a very good one, and Bachchan had a really good time while at it, said the source.

The actor was equally happy shooting with the lions in the afternoon, said the source. Reportedly, two designated routes into the forest have been reserved especially for the Big B, for easy entry into the forests that the actor has been frequenting for the last couple of days.

However, the schedules of the shoot are turning out to be quite hectic, say sources. Mostly organised early in the morning or late in the evening, the shoots have reportedly been taking quite a toll on the entourage.

Done with shooting in Gir and the vicinity, Bachchan shall now proceed to the Somnath temple tomorrow, where he shall be stationed for the next two days.

The shoots aside, Bachchan continued tweeting and blogging with the same zest as ever. His blog, late on Thursday evening, came alive with pictures of the Siddi dancers, as also with poetry and an extract of a foreword written by his father, late poet Harivanshrai Bachchan.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Sher ki kahani, Bachchan ki zubaani

Sher ki kahani, Bachchan ki zubaani
Times of India By Himanshu kaushik

"Nahi bhoolti uff wo jangal ki raatMujhe yaad hai wo thi Mangal ki raat."

These are lines from the famous Bollywood number of 'Mr Natwarlal' where Amitabh Bachchan conjures up a tale of his encounter with the big cat. You may call it coincidence, but it could well have been scripted to perfection. Big B had a real encounter with lions in the Gir forest this time, and that too on a Mangal ki raat — late on Tuesday evening.

And he was dressed up in the same Mr Natwarlal hunter outfit, complete with knee-high boots as he did for 'Aao bachcho aaj tumhe ek kahani sunata hoon main, sher ki kahani sunoge?' He even tucked in his trousers in the reddish brown boots for the still shoot in the forest with a pride of eight lions. When the camera was not trained on him, Bachchan took his own camera and trained it on the lions.

Bachchan flew into Gir at 8.30am on Tuesday and later in the evening, rode a van that had been given a facelift recently because the star was going to use it. The king of Bollywood was excited to have a first glimpse of the king of the jungle in its last abode in Asia.

A ripple ran through the jungle as word spread that the superstar was going to make Gir his abode and small groups of people gathered at the helipad for a glimpse of the superstar.

Officials have already identified several prides of lions in different parts of the forest and surrounding areas and are tracking them so that the wild cats don't wander away at the time of the shoot. At least now, Big B will have a real 'sher ki kahani' to tell!

Bachchan in Gir forest to shoot advt with lions

Bachchan in Gir forest to shoot advt with lions
Press Trust of India

Brand ambassador of Gujarat tourism, Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan today reached Gir forest for shooting an advertisement.

The 68-year-old actor is likely to stay there for three days and will do shoot with Asiatic lions, sources from the district authority said.

A special arrangement has been made at 'Sinh Sadan' where the actor has been given accommodation and is likely to watch 'Dhamal Nrutya' to be performed by Siddi community sources said adding Bachchan would also visit the Somnath Temple tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Vulture nests to hit Girnar ropeway plan?

Vulture nests to hit Girnar ropeway plan?
The Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

The ropeway project on the Girnar mountain could be in trouble. The vulture census which ended on Monday has revealed 22 nesting sites in the region and presence of about 69 vultures in the area. Wildlife experts have been opposing this project for fear that it would have an adverse impact on the vulture conservation programme.

Protests against the ropeway forced Union minister of forest and environment Jairam Ramesh to personally visit the site before it got the final approval of the National Wildlife Board chaired by him.

Officials in the forest department said that the cliffs of Girnar mountain provided nesting and roosting sites to three species of endangered vulture species. Also, the area has been declared a sanctuary and houses a sizeable lion population as well. Forest officials say from a population of over 2,500 vultures, only about 1,450 vultures remained and further construction of the ropeway would wipe out even these numbers.

Dinesh Goswami and the team of Prakruti Nature club which was asked to survey the area confirmed sighting at least 69 vultures in the area. He said that they had taken photographs of 22 nests in the area — two each in Datar and Jogni hills and 18 in and around Velnath hills. Vultures are listed as schedule-I species under the Wildlife Protection Act. Activists say the construction of a ropeway and constant movement of vehicles could disturb the birds.

There are bungles in the EIA report of Girnar Ropeway!

There are bungles in the EIA report of Girnar Ropeway!

Phulchhab By Yashpal Bakshi

69 rare vultures live at proposed Girnar rope-way location

69 rare vultures live at proposed Girnar rope-way location
Desh Gujarat

Girnar rope way project might face further troubles, as 47 vultures and their 22 nests have been recorded on rope way route.

Gandhinagar based GEER foundation had organized state-wide census of vultures in Gujarat last week. According to initial figures available, 47 vultures were spotted on Girnar hill and 22 in Devaliya park.

According to Prakruti nature club volunteers Dineshbhai Goswami, Jignesh Gohel, Devshibhai Ram, Janibhai, Vijaybhai Gandhi, Mahetabhai, Rajshibhai Ram and Aslambhai, who participated in vulture counting, the nests of vultures were spotted on the left after 1950 steps near Velnath on Girnar hill. Devshibhai said that there were various types of vultures including Dakugidh, Rajgidh, Kherogidh and Girnarigidh.

It should be mentioned here that due to population of rare vultures and lions in Girnar forest, the central environment and forest ministry has put proposed rope way project on hold here. The latest figures justify central minister Jairam Ramesh's stand on Girnar rope way project.

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