Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Maldharis threaten agitation against eviction

Maldharis threaten agitation against eviction
Times of India

The Maldhari community in Sasan Gir has threatened to launch an agitation if the state government tried to forcibly evict them from Gangadiya and Alavani ness.

At a meeting held in Gir on Monday, the community members resolved to stage dharnas and fast-unto-death if officials don't reverse their stand. The members, who met under the banner of SETU, expressed anguish over forest officials warning them to move out of Gangadiya and Alavani ness or face action. The community will also submit a memorandum to the officials.

Ashok Shrimali, a social activist working with the Maldhari community in Gir, said forest officials informed 30 families of Gangadiya and Alavani ness that they were staying illegally in the forest. "Since decades, these families are living at the same place. They also have a legal pass given to them as a permanent permit. But now the forest department is terming these passes illegal," he claimed. tnn

The community members alleged that officials were also harassing the Maldharis in other ness and have stopped them from carrying milk out of the forest area.

"Usually, vehicles of contractors come to the forest to collect milk. But, forest officials have issued a directive to the contractors not to collect milk from Gangadiya and Alavani ness to harass the 30 families," Shrimali said.

Junagadh CCF R Meena said, "We have intensified the search for families living illegally. There may be a few who want to resist the move and are, therefore, threatening to make an issue out of this."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lions’ den draws nature-loving tourists after monsoon break

Lions' den draws nature-loving tourists after monsoon break
Khaleej Times Online

The Gir wildlife sanctuary near Junagadh in Gujarat, the only home of Asiatic lions, has just opened for nature-loving tourists after a four-month monsoon break and the call of the wild has already been drawing day-trippers in droves.
Ever since the gates to the 1,450-square-kilometre leafy park were unlocked on October 16, holidayers from South Africa, Ireland, Australia, Brazil and various parts of the country, especially West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Punjab, have enjoyed close encounters with the jungle king in natural surroundings.

The quick ride in special vehicles through the dense forest between dawn and dusk for a glimpse of the roaring royals gives them a breathtaking experience in the protected woodlands which house as many as 411 majestic lions, besides countless leopards, jungle cats, rusty spotted cats, spotted deer, four-horned antelopes and the wild boar.

In fact, all the 200-odd hotels and guest houses around Gir have been booked to capacity much before next week's Diwali celebrations and the rush is so heavy that forest officials, who hitherto allowed entry to only 90 vehicles every day, have this year eased the number of vehicles to 150. According to tourism minister J N Vyas, during 2010-11, Gir received 271,745 tourists, 31 per cent more than previous year when 2,06,563 visited the sanctuary blessed with rich bio-diversity. And before the jungle was closed in June last for the monsoons coinciding with the mating season of the beasts, some 1,08,996 adventure lovers have already been to the picturesque park.

Kamlesh Patel, chairman of the Gujarat Tourism Corporation Limited, admitted that the advertisement campaign featuring superstar Amitabh Bachchan had also created awareness about improved facilities at Gir, leading to influx of tourists from all over the globe.

The Gir visitors, however, complain of poor infrastructure, transport and air connectivity. Some also express concern over death of 30 lions in the none-too-distant past. The fact that tigers walk away with a lions' share, literally, of the federal government funds also worries the Gujarat's forest department.

The government of the neighbouring state of Madhya Pradesh has been desperately trying to acquire at least eight of Gir's 411 lions, saying that their location in just one abode makes the rare big cats, smaller than their African counterparts but equally aggressive, vulnerable to extinction. Wildlife experts have been arguing that a disease outbreak or a disaster like forest fire or cyclone has the potential to erode conservation achievements of the past 100 years. It is also said that a scientific conservation plan for translocating a few lions to establish a second free-ranging population of lions in the country has been languishing due to the lack of political consensus and stewardship.

Indeed, 25 villages have already been relocated and hundreds of families resettled at enormous human and financial cost to prepare the forest of Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh as the second home for lions in India.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the people of Gujarat have been opposing the Madhya Pradesh proposal for just eight lions required to start the Kuno conservation initiative. Well, the matter is now in the Supreme Court as a conservationist has filed a public interest petition over the delay.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gir's animals sensed danger minutes before quake

Gir's animals sensed danger minutes before quake
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

At 10.45 pm Thursday night, the usual nightly silence in Gir sanctuary was suddenly broken by unusually loud birds' calls and roars of lions. There was chaos in cattle ponds in one of the ness within the forest.

This was the scene minutes before the earthquake shook the state. The epicenter of the tremor that measured 5.3 on Richter scale was in Vanthali, roughly 50 km from Sasan.

Resident of Kanika Ness in Gir area, Nanabhai Kalabhai, said, "We woke up with a start due to loud roars of lions. This too would have been usual for us but the roar was not common. Soon, we sensed some movement in the cattle pond."

"We thought the cattle were scared as the roars were too close. Before we could figure out what was happening, the earth shook violently. It was then that we understood the unusual behavior of animals was due to the earthquake," he said.

A beat guard, on night duty at a checkpost inside the sanctuary, said, "Just before the earthquake, birds started giving frantic calls. Soon after the earthquake, two lions passed me by. Usually, one can does not see such movement of big cats late in the night, unless the animal is hungry."

Another forest beat guard, who was near a ness, said, "I saw a cow and a buffalo suddenly jump into in a pond. I was taken aback as I thought that the lion might have made his way there. But within a minute, I was literally shaking and realized that the movement of the animal was because of the tremor. They could sense it much before us."

Former director of Wildlife Conservation Society-India and an expert on Gir lions, Ravi Chellam, said, "Animals are able to perceive the threat and give early calls. Sensing trouble, cattle and big cats, including lions, move to safer areas." These are very rare incidents and one has not been able to study the behavior fully.

Superintendent of the Sakarbaugh Zoo V S Rana said, "Our doctor was on a round and suddenly he heard calls of the birds. There is a usual silence late in the night and birds' calls are rare. He was standing near the chital and leopard enclosures. There was not much movement in their cages. The doctor then went to the lion enclosure only to find the big cat moving, which was unusual at that time of the night."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Permit quotas for entry to Gir sanctuary to be raised to 150

Permit quotas for entry to Gir sanctuary to be raised to 150

The permit quota for entry to Gir Wildlife sanctuary, the only abode of Asiatic lions, is likely to be increased to 150 from the usual 90 to meet the heavy rush on Diwali weekend, forest officials said today.

Anshuman Sharma, District Conservator of Forests, said the maximum capacity has been upped to 150 permits as number of tourists visiting this sanctuary in Junagadh district have risen since its opening on October 16, after remaining closed for four months on account of the breeding season.

The sanctuary houses more than 411 Asiatic lions and has started attracting thousands of visitors after the 'Gujarat Ki Khushboo' promotion campaign by megastar Amitabh Bachchan, he said.

From the very first day of its reopening, tourists from South Africa, Ireland, Australia, Brazil and various parts of the country including West Bengal, Tamilnadu and Punjab visited Gir, Sharma said.

Talking to PTI, Kamlesh Patel, Chairman of Gujarat Tourism Corporation Limited said the ad campaign has created awareness, attracting tourists from all over the world to Gir forests.

Gujarat tourism minister Jitendra Sukhadiya said every hotel and restaurant near the Gir Wildlife Reserve has been booked.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Gir sanctury gets 60 per cent bonus tourists this Diwali vacation

Gir sanctury gets 60 per cent bonus tourists this Diwali vacation
Express India By ADAM HALLIDAY,hitarthpandya,Hitarth Pandya

The Big-B charm continued to work for the forest department at Gir Wildlife Sanctuary (GWS), the only abode to Asiatic lions in the world. At least 60 per cent more tourists are booked at this sanctuary for Diwali vacations, compared to last year. The sanctuary will open on Sunday after a three-month break for monsoon, which also coincides with the mating season for the beasts.
According to officials at GWS, the tourist flow has increased drastically as compared to the last year. The conducive environment and the facilities provided by the department has turned out to be a major aspect attracting the tourist, officials said. Even the Gateway hotel at Sasan Gir is completely booked, weeks after it opened.

"After the poaching incidents, which surfaced in 2007, we have taken several measures to change the entire perspective about Gir. The staff has been changed totally and about 400 of them are new recruits and that makes a lot of difference. The old staff had been working as typical forest department staff whereas it needed something more than that because it was all about attracting more tourists," Chief Conservator of Forests, Junagadh, R L Meena told The Indian Express.

"Not only that, the local tourist guides have gained a lot of confidence in explaining about wildlife to the tourists," he added.

Roping in Amitabh Bachchan as tourism ambassador has done wonders for the department. "There is no doubt that his presence has made direct impact on the tourist flow. After all, he is a superstar and people do acknowledge him," said Meena.

During 2009-10, a total of 2,06,563 persons visited the sanctuary and Devaliya Safari Park. During 2010-11, 2,71,745 persons visited GWS and Devaliya Safari Park, he said. "There is an increase of 65,182 tourists in the financial year 2010-11 in comparison to 2009-10, which shows 31.55% increase in the tourist flow. During the current financial year, 1,08,996 persons have visited the sanctuary and Devaliya Safari Park. The sanctuary remained closed for tourists from June 16 to October 1," said Meena. The tourism campaign has also benefitted the private hospitality sector, with the first large foray into the area booked full for the Diwali season.

The newly opened Gateway hotel at Sasan Gir — a part of the Taj hospitality chain with 28 rooms and a regular jeep safaris — has already been booked to capacity for the Diwali holiday season. "We are completely sold out. It's a mix (of foreign and domestic tourists), but a lot of domestic," said Chaula Mazmudar, hotel's general manager.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Outcast lioness of Gir now queen of her pride

Outcast lioness of Gir now queen of her pride
Times of India
A lioness in Gir, who was deserted by her group four months ago, has not only returned to the pride but has formed her own pride of nine that includes three females. She also guards her own territory sprawling up to roughly 40 sq km.
This female dominates a group of six cubs and two lionesses. Officials keeping a close watch on this teenage mother said the lioness slowly started approaching the group after her cub became about six months. The lioness and her cub started becoming weak as she found it difficult to hunt. She therefore decided to go back to her pride.
The lioness was kicked out of her group for a fling with a lion and bearing his cubs. The group had no aversion in accepting her too. Once this teenage lioness was accepted back in the group, she started dominating the group.
And the lion too was spotted moving in the same area close to the group "Lionesses in Gir display a behaviour different from those found in Africa, where the males dominate their territory. But in Gir, it always the lionesses that protect the territory. A couple of lions guard at least three to four sub groups that are closely guarded by the female," said additional principal conservator of forest H S Singh.
He said a male dominates a territory of 70 sq km, but there are at least four to five subgroups. Unpleasant incidents are reported where groups of two females develop enmity. The female who guards her group does not let a female from another group come close to them. There is hardly any tolerance limit among the female subgroups , said Singh, adding that such behaviour is not observed in Africa. A senior officer posted in Gir said, "Because of the hilly area within the forest, one does not find much enmity between the male groups, but the same enmity can be seen between two female groups."

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Roars, growls and Grunts


Roars, growls and Grunts
India has a fair record in wild cat protection, but much is desired
Author: Ravi Chellam
India is fortunate to have a diverse set of habitats, largely due to variations in terrain and climate. This is reflected in the tremendous diversity of wild plants and animals, including the large wild cats, probably the most charismatic group of animals. India has five extant species of large wild cats; Asiatic lion, Indian tiger, common leopard, snow leopard and clouded leopard. We also had the Asiatic cheetah which went extinct in India around the time of Independence in 1947.
Wildlife conservation in India faces huge challenges that include a very large human population, an economy which is still largely biomass-based (at least in terms of the number of people whose livelihoods are linked to land and biomass), high levels of poverty, and fragmentation, degradation and destruction of habitats due to rapid land use changes largely driven by large-scale industrialisation and urbanisation. Despite these factors, India has actually fared quite well in conserving its large cats.
Could the current conservation status of wild cats have been better? Absolutely, especially because of the very high levels of tolerance for wild cats among communities which unfortunately has declined in the last decade or so; reasonably widespread public support for wildlife conservation and the high quality human resources we now possess in wildlife research and conservation.
Asiatic lion:
Lions were fairly widely distributed in India till about the mid-19th century. With the advent of fire arms that facilitated hunting and large-scale conversion of the flatter habitats into agricultural fields and human settlements, lions suffered a catastrophic decline in their distribution as well as population size. By the late 19th century and early 20th century the lion in India was close to extinction, with various estimates putting its number at 12 to 20. The most recent official count in 2010 estimates the population to be at 411. Hence, conservation efforts in the last century have not only staved off extinction but also resulted in a significant increase in the lion population in India.
Currently, Asiatic lions are found only in and around Gir forest in Gujarat. So despite the remarkable increase in numbers Asiatic lions are still very vulnerable to extinction. Their situation is akin to having all your eggs in one basket. A disease outbreak or a major natural disaster like forest fire or cyclone or even an adverse political decision has the potential to erode conservation achievements of the past 100 years.
A scientific conservation plan for translocating a few lions to establish a second free-ranging population of lions in the country has been languishing due to the lack of political consensus and stewardship. About 25 villages have been relocated and hundreds of families resettled at enormous human and financial cost to prepare the forest of Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh as the second home for lions in India. Unfortunately, the people of Gujarat led by their politicians have been opposing the project and have refused to part with six to eight wild lions which are required to start this conservation initiative. The matter is now in the Supreme Court as a conservationist has filed a public interest petition over the delay.
Translocating lions is like buying insurance against their extinction in the wild and delaying it is tempting fate. Once a catastrophe strikes, it would be too late to take the required conservation actions.
Indian tiger:
For far too long the conservation of tigers in India has largely been driven by the obsession with tiger numbers. It was common knowledge that the methods used to estimate numbers were flawed and more importantly the estimation was not done with the required levels of sincerity. The final numbers were always manufactured to show an increasing population which was clearly at odds with ground realities and ecological principles. It took the extinction of tigers in Sariska in 2005 to shake the system, albeit only briefly, but it has reset the baseline in terms of tiger numbers, methods used to estimate tiger populations and levels of participation for non-government players. The authorities at Sariska first went into denial and it was only after several months that the extinction was accepted.
If Sariska was scandalous, what happened in Panna over several years was worse. After the usual round of denials and even targeting the whistleblower, the authorities had to admit that Panna had lost all its tigers in 2009. The widespread governmental resistance to using modern scientific methods and to allowing access to researchers and conservationists is an important facet of this problem. The majority of the wildlife management officials do not have the required training or interest to work for wildlife conservation. Their defensive attitudes only add to the problem.
Unfortunately, without dealing with the root causes for the Sariska and Panna fiascos, the managers have resorted to an easy solution, translocation of tigers from other areas. The danger of course is that the same problems which resulted in local extinction could very easily act on the re-introduced tigers, as evidenced by the unnatural death of a reintroduced tiger in Sariska.
Over a four-year period (2006-2010) tigers have disappeared from more than 10,000 sq km of tiger habitat, a 12.6 per cent decline in distribution range. These are largely habitats outside the protected area network which functioned as corridors and enabled tigers to move from one protected area to another. This means that tigers will increasingly be boxed into smaller areas and once they venture out are likely to have very low survival rates. In the long-term this can result in inbreeding and compromise the genetic diversity of tiger populations.
The key solutions are to build the capacity of the managers and field staff, based on science, field patrolling, intelligence gathering and related fields, to equip them to effectively tackle the threats; establish partnerships with research and conservation agencies to bring their expertise to bear on the management of tigers and their habitats and landscape-level planning to ensure that development projects do not fragment and destroy tiger habitats and undermine the long-term survival of tigers.
Common leopard:
Leopards are amazing survivors due to their smaller size that enables them to survive on much smaller prey animals, ability to climb trees and tolerate a very wide set of climatic factors. Increasingly leopards are not only being targeted by poachers but are being killed by people as well, often in retaliation to conflict and more importantly due to the rapid decline in the tolerance levels of people for wild cats.
With much of the conservation attention on tigers, the status of leopards has not been monitored as closely as required. Estimating leopard numbers is not easy: they can be more elusive than tigers but then they can also survive in close proximity to human habitations. The key to survival of leopards is to provide better protection from poaching and swift and effective management responses to conflict situations, especially in human-dominated habitats.
Snow leopard:
Snow leopards have fortunately received some excellent research attention over the past 15 years and this has resulted in us having a much better understanding of their ecology. A very innovative conservation project has also been launched with very strong involvement of NGOs and this heralds a new conservation model, not restricted to protected areas.
Asiatic cheetah:
There has been a move over the last couple of years to bring the cheetah back. On the face of it, it seems a positive conservation action but the devil is in the detail. To begin with the number of Asiatic cheetahs in the wild is so low that it is not prudent to capture them from a very small population that remains in Iran. This only leaves the option of obtaining cheetahs from Africa. But recent research has indicated that the African cheetahs are a distinct sub-species that probably diverged from their Asiatic counterparts between 32,000 to 67,000 years ago. Unfortunately, the Union Cabinet, overlooking this evidence, has sanctioned nearly Rs. 4 crore for introducing African cheetahs in India. Given our poor management record and funding constraints, the sustainability of this initiative is questionable.
India has done a reasonably good job in conserving wild cats but it cannot rest on its laurels. There are numerous threats to the habitats and populations of wild cats. The current management paradigm is not based on science and managers do not have the required training and manpower to deliver on their mandate. The challenges call for an open and collaborative approach. If wild cats have to survive it is time the attitude, approach and personnel change without delay.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

This Wildlife Week, Gir zone's humans in focus too

This Wildlife Week, Gir zone's humans in focus too
Times of India
An extensive education programme has been launched in Gir and surrounding areas as part of World Wildlife Week commemorations, which begin from Sunday.
Gujarat Science City has also organized a series of programmes from October 1 to 7. The programmes include screening of wildlife films, slide shows, games, quizzes and interactive sessions with experts. A special seminar has been organized on Sunday in which about 150 engineering students will interact with top forest and wildlife officials.
As for events around Gir, Anushman Sharma, the in-charge deputy conservator of forests (headquarters) said: "This year, the theme of the commemoration in Gir will revolve round the life of the local people and even the habitat."
The department has made over 3,000 lion masks which will be distributed among schools students. Sharma said these are thick paper mask and not the ones which are available in the common market.
Sharma said that four big rallies would be staged in the region on Sunday: in Sasan, Talala, Maliya Hatina and Somnath. He said that apart from rallies, the department had also organized an essay competition and an elocution competition. The essay competition will be on the benefits of Gir forest to the local people, while the elocution competition will be on the use of plastic and its impact on wildlife.
Sharma said that in the past, the quiz competition was only on the wildlife of the state, but this time the department had focused on the local people as well.
Principal chief conservator of forests Pardeep Khanna said the 3,000-odd eco-clubs situated around the wildlife in the state would be roped in for the commemoration.

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