Thursday, January 30, 2014

130 years on, Brits to make up for lion-hunting losses

130 years on, Brits to make up for lion-hunting losses
The Times of India

During the Raj, lion hunting was considered the most aristocratic sport. No wonder then that the population of Asiatic lion had hit the rock bottom under the British rule - there were just 12 lions left in Junagadh in 1884. British journals of the 19th century show that the big cat occupied a prominent place in the 'shikaar' stories.

A good 130 years later, a group of Britons feel it is time to payback. The ZSL London Zoo has prepared a conservation plan to become a part of the efforts to save Asiatic lions. "As part ofinternational efforts to save the Asian lion, ZSL London Zoo is planning a £5.7m project to increase the size of its lion enclosure fourfold and fund conservation work on the last remaining wild population in the Gir Forest National Park," said the zoo's press officer Rebecca Blanchard.

The zoo plans a brand new Asiatic lion exhibit for 2016. "We're investigating the different ways we can get involved in projects to help save Asiatic lions in India. We'll continue to play an important role in the European conservation breeding programme for the species."

The project for lion conservation, that is captive breeding programme, is the baby of the ZSL London Zoo's zoological director, David Field. The zoo director wants to increase the number of the lions from five to 12 in a new enclosure will allow the zoo to play a greater part in captive breeding programme to prevent the subspecies from going extinct. A team from the UK will chalk out a plan for coordination with the Gujarat state forest department for conservation efforts.

Principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife) C N Pandey said, "A team from ZSL London Zoo visited Gujarat five months ago. According to their bylaws, the ZSL London Zoo will contribute funds towards conservation programme of the Asiatic lion in its home range in Gujarat."

London Zoo to increase pride of Asiatic lions and fund conservation work in India to save dwindling wild population

London Zoo to increase pride of Asiatic lions and fund conservation work in India to save dwindling wild population
The Independent

To most of us, lions are African, but many of the great beasts of legend were Indian. Now a zoo plans to breed more of them

They roared in Roman amphitheatres, did Biblical battle with Samson, and are immortalised on flags across the world.

But numbers of the Asiatic lion, once found from Europe to the Far East, have dwindled to just a few hundred in India. Its decline – partly the result of an epic slaughter by European hunters in the 19th and 20th centuries – has been so great that for many people today, lions are synonymous with Africa.

As part of international efforts to save the Asian lion, however, ZSL London Zoo is planning a £5.7m project to increase the size of its lion enclosure fourfold and fund conservation work on the last remaining wildpopulation in the Gir Forest National Park in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

As the zoological director, David Field, explained, the effort to increase the number of Asiatic lions from five to as many as 12 in a new enclosure will allow the zoo to play a greater part in a captive breeding programme in a drive to prevent the subspecies from going extinct.

“During the Raj in India, huge lion hunts were responsible for the widespread decimation of lions in India,” Mr Field said. “I think it’s about time we gave something back.”

One of London zoo's cubs takes its first steps

Some estimates say that, in the early part of the 20th century, numbers of the Asiatic lion or Panthera leo persica, fell to under 20 worldwide. There are now more than 400 living in the Gir Forest.

However, the population is beset by problems, not least that their existence has largely been forgotten outside India. A London Zoo survey of its visitors found that “most people think lions are from Africa”.

This was not always the case. The Asiatic lion – found in Greece in ancient times and in the Middle East in the 19th century – would have been well known to medieval Europeans, and could have been the lion seen on flags, in heraldry and as an honorific for people such as Richard the Lionheart. Another candidate for the lion that so impressed early Europe, the Barbary lion of northern Africa, is extinct in the wild today.

Mr Field said that saving the Asiatic lion, slightly smaller with a larger tail tuft than its African cousin, presented “an incredible conservation challenge”, although “the population in India is stable, in fact growing just a little bit”.

Gir Forest National Park is surrounded by urban areas and, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are even fears that the current size of the lion population “is larger than the estimated carrying capacity of the habitat and prey base”.

Geoffrey Plantagenet and a shield with lion rampant

The renowned Indian wildlife photographer Bhushan Pandya, who has taken pictures of Gir lions for 30 years and works closely with India’s Wildlife Conservation Trust, welcomed the London Zoo project. But he warned that it is difficult to reintroduce into the wild animals that had been bred in captivity. The secret to the Gir project’s recent success was, he said, that lions and people had found a way to live in “unusual harmony”.

Mr Field said the new enclosure at London Zoo would, if it secured planning permission, be “world class as far as lions are concerned”.

It will provide a range of different kinds of environments such as places where the lions can “curl up and look at the public”, high points where they can survey London, and areas of dense foliage where they can hide.

“I think the lions can expect something very special,” Mr Field said.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wildlife experts want train speeds curbed

Wildlife experts want train speeds curbed
The Times of India

The death of two lionesses near Pipavav port has once again raised the issue of limiting the speed of the trains,especially considering the extending kingdom of Asiatic lions.

Wildlife conservationists say the speed of trains must be limited when they pass through areas which are now considered as lion corridors.As per lion census 2010,there were around 108 lions in Amreli district,of which around 50 are regularly seen in coastal areas of Rajula and Jafrabad.

This is a serious issue.There is an urgent need to limit the speed of goods trains that pass through wildlife areas in and around Pipavav port, honorary wildlife warden,Amreli,Vipul Laheri said.While lions being run over by trains are rare incident,large number of domestic cattle are frequently killed on the tracks in this region.We will soon take up the issue with concern departments,including district collectorate,port,railways and forest department, Laheri added.
Sources said in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary,the speed limit for trains is 10 to 30 per hour.Moreover,the trains dont run from 5.30pm to 9am.

Lions have permanently settled in coastal parts of Amreli.Lions in Rajula taluka are most disturbed wild animals due to industries and human habitation, Bhikhubhai Jethava,father of slain RTI activist Amit Jethava,said.

One of the lioness that was crushed under the train near Rajula

Train runs over 2 lionesses near Gir, one was pregnant with 3 cubs

Train runs over 2 lionesses near Gir, one was pregnant with 3 cubs
The Times of India

Two lionesses, one of them pregnant with three cubs, were run over by a container train near Pipavav port in Amreli district, around 40km from the Gir sanctuary, on Wednesday morning.

The two were part of a pride of five lionesses which was crossing the railway track between Bherai and Bhachadar villages, when the accident took place around 6.30am. As many as 50 lions have permanently settled in these coastal areas around Rajula and Jafrabad towns of Amreli district.

Forest department officials told TOI that the pregnant lioness was around seven years old while the other was aged two. In September last year, a six-month-old lion cub was run over by a goods train in the same area. The train line links Pipavav port to Surendranagar.

"This is an unfortunate incident. We will be talking to the railways as well as the port management to discuss ways to reduce the speed limit of trains on this stretch," said J K Makwana, deputy conservator of forests (Amreli).

The death of the lionesses sparked a furore among villagers, who shouted slogans against railway authorities and the port management. Three other lionesses who escaped unhurt later entered fields near Bhachadar village. "They are in a private farm near the village. All three are constantly roaring," forest department source said.

Sources said lions are frequently seen on revenue land on the 10-km stretch from the port towards Rajula. The area also has several warehouses.

A couple of lions were mowed down by a train in the Sasan forest area about 15 years back, following which trains on that line were cautioned to move at a slow pace. This has helped check such accidents there.

Gir and surrounding areas are home to the last surviving population of wild Asiatic lions. As per the last census, the number of lions there was 411.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

MP to sign MoU with MoEF, Gujarat government for shifting of lions

MP to sign MoU with MoEF, Gujarat government for shifting of lions
IBN Live

An agreement may be signed between the Environment and Forests Ministry and other stake holders to oversee implementation of Asiatic lions from neighbouring Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh's Palpur Kuno sanctuary.

The Madhya Pradesh government has sought from the Centre shifting of some near-extinct Asiatic lions from Gujarat's Gir Sanctuary, home to about 400 of the species.

A special committee formed to ensure successful shifting of the lions made an action plan and sent it to the Centre which forwarded it to the MP government for its comments.

MP to sign MoU with MoEF, Gujarat government for shifting of lions

"One of the important aspects mentioned in that action plan is that such schemes should be run for long term basis for 25 years. To execute such long term scheme from financial, technical and administrative point of views, it would be necessary to sign an MoU between Ministry of Environment and Forests, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh government.

"The MoU will clearly outline responsibility of each stake holder," said Narendra Kumar, Chief Wildlife Warden of Madhya Pradesh in a notesheet seeking his government's nod for a response to be sent to the Centre on its action plan.

The action plan has pointed out shortage of staff in Palpur Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary under Sheopur district and suggested the state government to fill all such posts.

Of 195 sanctioned posts, 164 are filled. Twenty-three posts of forest guards, five posts of range assistant, two post of range officers and one post of sub-divisional officer were lying vacant, the action plan said.

"There are many shortcomings before lions are brought here. The MP government is working very slow in this regard. We want they overcome all shortcomings pointed in the action plan and lions are trans-located here soon," said wildlife activist Ajay Dubey, who had accessed copy of government's notesheet and action plan exercising his right to information.

Supreme Court had on April 15 last year allowed trans- location of Asiatic lions from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh, saying the species is under threat of extinction and needs a second home.

Gujarat had opposed Madhya Pradesh's plea, saying lions would not be safe there as the central state had failed to preserve its own tiger population in the Panna reserve forest.

Tiger population in Panna reserve had dwindled to zero in 2009. However, tigers were reintroduced in the reserve, which at present is home to about 23 big cats.

Gujarat to file curative by end of January

Gujarat to file curative by end of January
The Times of India

 The Gujarat government is all set to file the curative petition challenging the apex court order to translocate lions to Kuno Palpur. The state had after the final order on April 15, filed a review petition which was dismissed by the court in November 2013.

HK Dash, the additional chief secretary forest and environment, says, "We have sought the legal opinion from the Supreme Court senior advocate and have also sent the order to the advocate general of the state for his comments. We will definitely file the curative by the end of this month."

Officials said seeking opinion was only the formality, but the department was already ready with the curative petition and was waiting for the clearance from the senior officials and the political bosses. This time the department is not only highlighting the achievement of the state in conservation, but will also base its petition on the fact that there picture was not grim as it has been painted by the experts.

Officials said that the recent study by Ravi Chellam and Dr Y V Jhala will also be sighted in the curative petition. The duos were asked to draw out guidelines for translocation of lion to Kuno Palpur. The duo in the report has also raised concern over the gun culture and incidents of poaching in and around Kuno Palpur. The two have also listed six aims, but the report have completed ignored the fact that the translocation was for the long term conservation of Lions which are found only in Saurashtra region in Gujarat.

Since the department has to revolve around the same arguments, even the curative petition wants to catch the MP government on its own home turf of multiplying prey base. During the hearing in the court the Madhya Pradesh claimed that the prey base in Kuno Palpur was more than that of Gir Protected Sanctuary. The MP forest department has claimed that the population excluding feral cattle has increased from 17.5 prey base in 2004 to around 70 animals per sq km in 2013. Officials said that the department will be raising a question that if the prey base was increasing, why is there no permanent population of leopards and tigers in the Kuno Sanctuary. Kuno was earlier known for tigers and leopards.

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