Thursday, February 27, 2014

Less money,but lion better off than tiger

Less money,but lion better off than tiger
Times of India

Despite step-motherly treatment by the Centre,the lion population has grown steadily along with the area,claim state forest officials.In contrast,the Centre had launched various schemes and allocated massive funds for the tiger.Yet,the tiger population of the country had fallen drastically but the area in which the big cats are to be found had shrunk over the years.

According to the 2010 tiger census,there were 1,706 tigers in India,up from 1,411 in 2006.But tiger territory had reduced to 72,852 sq km from 93,967 sq km over the same period.In contrast,the lion population in Gujarat the only abode of the Asiatic lion has not only gone up in the past four years but the territory in which it could be found had doubled.
In 1972,the tiger population was 1827.This increased to its peak of 4334 and then declined to 1411 by 2006.By 2010,tiger numbers had again gone up to 1706.On the other hand,the lion population,which was 177 in 1968 and 180 in 1974,had steadily increased and was 411 according to the April 2010 lion census.

Forest department officials say that land area in which lions are found had doubled in the last three years.During the 2010 census,they were spread over a 10,000 sq km area but an analysis done in 2013 of prey killed by lions had revealed that the big cat now had sway over 20,000 sq km.The officials further said that the central government had spent crores on conservation of tigers but was miserly when it came to funding various lion conservation schemes.The lion was not covered under Project Tiger nor was there a separate central project for lion conservation.The Centre had launched Project Rhino and Project Elephant recently but it had been neglecting the lion in allocation of funds,alleged officials.

A scientific paper by Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests,HS Sinsha,says that the key aspect in conservation of the Asiatic lion was their dispersal and subsequent protection of surrounding satellite populations.Approximately onefourth of the Asiatic lions are to be found in protected satellite populations outside the Gir Conservation Area and they subsist primarily on wild prey.The protection of these satellite habitats and maintenance of corridors linking them to the core population in the Gir Conservation Area has allowed for the continuous growth of this endangered species.

Accidental deaths of lions on the rise

Accidental deaths of lions on the rise
Times of India

Reported From Outskirts Of Sanctuaries

The death of a lion in Amreli on railway tracks has once again raised serious concerns on conservation issues.Incidents of unnatural deaths of lions,including electrocution,have been on the rise,especially on outskirts of the sanctuaries.

Lions have been venturing out of the sanctuary since the early 1990s,but the department has not given adequate protection and failed to create more protected areas.

Officials said Barda Dungar is a perfect example of how forest officials have neglected the area and have been delaying shifting lions there.

The dispersal of lions has been reported in several journals and research papers which claim that the big cats were moving out in search of food.Apart from Gir sanctuary,lions have declared Pania,Mitiyala and Girnar sanctuaries for lions.

Gir sanctuary at the most can hold not more than 280 lions and with the population increasing,it is necessary for the department to have more protected area for conservation.

Asenior official also pointed out that after the March 2007 poaching incident,a Greater Gir Action plan was prepared by the department and was even cleared by the state wildlife board headed by chief minister Narendra Modi.However,there after not much has been achieved on the ground.


January 2014 |

Two lionesses are mowed down by a goods train between Dehra and Pasada villages in Rajula taluka of Amreli district.One of the lionesses was pregnant.The lionesses were hit by the Pipavav Port-bound train on a private track.The site where the accident took place is around 35-40 km from the Gir forest,but lions are regularly seen here.

September 2012 |

A lion cub is killed after being run over by a train at a village near the Gir National Park in Amreli district.The body of the cub,around 5-6 months old,was found lying near the Rajula-Pipavav railway track.

December 2009 |

A lion is found dead under a bridge near Bhelchhar village in the Sasan range of the Gir forest.Officials say that headlights of a car,heading towards Sasan,had startled the animal on the bridge.eeling threatened,the lion jumped atop a narrow,metre-high parapet on the left side of the bridge,but failed to keep its balance and plunged down.

Times View

T he last lion census in 2010 had put the lion count in Saurashtra at 411.While the next census is due only in mid-2015,conservative estimates by foresters put the count at 500.In the 1960s,lions were confined to an area of 1,400 sq km.Today,their presence spans 20,000 sq km.The lions are breeding well,conquering new kingdoms as their numbers grow.No doubt,the big cats face various threats in Gujarat and new sanctuaries,like the one being planned for years at Barda Dungar,need to be created.But threat levels are much greater in the alternative home being planned in Chambal which is infested by gun-toting poachers and dacoits.

Lion run over by goods train near Amreli

Lion run over by goods train near Amreli
Economic Times

In yet another incident, Asiatic lion was run over by a container train near Bhambhar village in Savarkundla taluka of Amreli district on Saturday morning.

According to government officials, the incident occurred at around 6 am when two and a half year old male lion was crossing the railway track and container train was passing from this track and run over the wild cat.

The train was going from Pipavav Port to Dhola junction in the district. This was the second incident in which lions were run over train in Amreli district.

Earlier, two lionesses, one of the pregnant with three cubs were run over by train on 22 January near Pipavav Port.

Sources said that as many as 50 lions have permanently settled in these coastal areas around Rajula and Jafrabad towns of Amreli district.

Sources said lions are frequently seen on revenue land and crosses railway tracks inAmreli district.

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.

Expert panel's team to assess Kuno's preparedness

Expert panel's team to assess Kuno's preparedness
Times of India

The lion expert committee formed by the Supreme Court is likely to send a team to Kuno-Palpur in Madhya Pradesh to assess the sanctuary's preparedness for receiving lions from Gir, before taking a final decision on translocation of the big cats. Incidentally, a larger bench of the apex court has issued fresh notices over a petition filed by the Wildlife Trust of India challenging the shifting of the lions.

The 12-member committee was formed last year following the Supreme Court order of April 15, 2013. A division bench of the apex court had then ordered translocation of some Gir lions to Kuno Palpur and also ordered setting up of an expert committee to look into the translocation.

Later, the committee had formed a two-member expert team comprising lion experts Ravi Chellam and Yaduvendrasinh Zala. In their report submitted to the committee, the two experts had stated that 12 lions will be shifted in the first phase. However, the committee had expressed concern about the gun culture prevalent in and around the Madhya Pradesh sanctuary.

The action plan formulated with a 25-year-long translocation programme in mind, suggests that every three to five years, two-three lions - mostly male - should be shifted from Gir to Kuno to maintain the inter-linkage between lion populations in the two sanctuaries.

Sources in Delhi said the committee will be visiting Kuno to a make a firsthand assessment of the sanctuary's preparedness and also check the claims of the Madhya Pradesh government regarding the prey base and its density.

Officials said that there are claims and counter-claims within the expert panel regarding the prey base. A senior member of the committee and a lion expert had expressed doubts regarding the prey base count in the first meeting of the panel and even in court. Later, however, the same member had retracted his statement.

Officials said that some panel members were of the opinion that they should check the rehabilitation of displaced people being done by Madhya Pradesh government. The members had claimed that the local population was being rehabilitated far away from the sanctuary.

MP for tracking Kuno tiger to avoid fight with Gujarat lions

MP for tracking Kuno tiger to avoid fight with Gujarat lions
Zee News

 Madhya Pradesh has recommended to the Centre that the lone tiger in its Palpur Kuno sanctuary be fitted with a radio collar to check any possible conflict with lions proposed to be introduced in the reserve from Gujarat.

Palpur Kuno sanctuary, under Sehopur district of Gwalior division, has been chosen as the second home for Asiatic lions found exclusively in Gujarat's Gir sanctuary.

The matter of conflict between tiger and lions was mentioned in an action plan made by a technical committee involving officials of Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat governments, and Wild Life Institute of India (WII), following a Supreme Court directive to the Centre to ensure successful reintroduction of lions.

"Currently, Kuno wildlife sanctuary is occupied by a single resident tiger (T-38) from adjacent Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan. Both lions and tigers being top predators will sometime get involved in inter-specific strife resulting in injuries and even deaths," the action plan said.

"The best strategy would be to radio collar (GPS/ satellite) the tiger (and any other additional immigrant/ resident tiger in future) as well, so as to study the interaction between these two top carnivores as part of the research program of Kuno reintroduction," it said.

The action plan was sent to Madhya Pradesh forests department officials for necessary action.

"The action plan has recommended radio collaring of the lonely resident tiger and other co-predators to study the interaction between lion and tiger as well as resource use. We agree to the recommendation," Madhya Pradesh Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Narendra Kumar said in a letter dated January 30 to the MoEF.

There are about 400 Asiatic lions in Gir sanctuary.

The reintroduction plan of lions in Madhya Pradesh had faced stiff opposition from Gujarat. "There has already been a delay of more than four months in implementing reintroduction of lions in Madhya Pradesh. We will file contempt petition in Supreme Court very soon," said wildlife activist Ajay Dubey.

It is pertinent to mention that a first attempt in 1957 to translocate lions from Gujarat to Chandraprabha Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh had failed due to lack of understanding on adequacy of prey base, crucial habitat requirements and the insufficiency of protection, habitat management and monitoring.

Thereafter in 1990s, the WII took up the matter of finding an alternative home for the species and identified Kuno as the most suitable site.

A Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife in its meeting on February 18, 2008 also recommended a lion reintroduction program in Kuno. However, the program faced a deadlock with Gujarat government's unwillingness to provide its lions for reintroduction.

The Gujarat government had filed an affidavit before the Supreme Court in April, 2009 objecting to lion reintroduction.

On April 15 last year, the apex court directed the MoEF to expedite lion reintroduction in Kuno in compliance with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines for species translocation.

Following this, the technical committee was formed which gave its recommendation in form of the action plan to Madhya Pradesh government on October 21, 2013.

Asiatic Lion translocation: Supreme court agrees to review its April 2013 order

Asiatic Lion translocation: Supreme court agrees to review its April 2013 order

NGO claims SC not aware of few facts; SC admits writ plea for review.

The Supreme Court on Monday admitted a writ petition demanding a review of its April 2013 judgment that ordered the translocation of Asiatic Lions and issued notices to Centre, state government and other parties.

“After hearing the argument, the three-judge division bench has agreed to review the April 2013 order of the translocation of Asiatic Lions from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh and issued notices to the concerned parties,” said Tushar Gokani, advocate for the petitioner.

Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), a Rajkot-based NGO, has claimed that certain facts were not brought to the notice of the Supreme Court, which ordered the translocation of lions from Gir Forest to Kuno in Madhya Pradesh in its April 2013 order.

“The court relied on the 2000 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report that had put Asiatic Lions on the red list describing it as critically endangered species but has now moved — in its latest report — out from the critically endangered list to the endangered list. The IUCN report on the Asiatic Lions further stated that the population of the Asiatic Lion has not only stabilised but also extends beyond the Gir Forest across four regions of Gujarat,” stated the petition. The three-judge bench of Justice AK Patnaik, Justice SS Nijjar and Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla has been hearing the petition filed by WCT. The petitioner has requested the SC to declare the chief wildlife warden, the state government and the Centre as the appropriate authorities to determine and decide the necessity for the translocation of any wild animal.

The petitioner has also demanded that the court declare classification of the Asiatic Lion as a critically endangered species in the National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) as erroneous.

“Declare that the recommendations of the National Board for Wildlife on matters relating to the translocation of any wild animal are not binding upon the chief wildlife warden. Declare that the National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) is a non-statutory instrument and does not bind the chief wildlife warden,” the petitioner requested the court.

A lion's share

A lion's share
Deccan Herald

The Asiatic Lion has doubled its territory in Gujarat with one-third of Saurashtra under its reign. While the news is promising for the future of lions, it highlights the concern that they roam outside the protected area, leading to human-animal conflict. Atula Gupta writes...

When the Asiatic Lion truly lived the life of royalty, its territory ranged from Asia minor and Arabia through Persia to India. However, before the close of the last century, the lion had become extinct from all these regions except Gir, where thanks to the efforts of a Nawab, its faltering future was stabilised and the Indian lion had a single yet safe haven to call home.

Today, the population of India’s lions is stable, if not completely out of danger, because of consistent conservation efforts and a recent census points that the lion king is on the lookout for newer regions to conquer. With almost double the territory recorded of the wild cat within a span of four years, the species is set for a fierce expansion plan. But, while the news is promising for the future of lions, does it also bring forth a number of other concerns, especially a rise in human-animal conflict? That is the big question.

The pride of Gujarat has doubled its territory in the span of four years from 10,500 sq km in 2010 to 20,000 sq km recorded recently. The state forest department conducted a study based on the frequent kills and compensation given to farmers and found that the presence of the predator was noted in almost one-third of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat. Of the 1,500 villages that notified the lion’s presence, most were in the Junagadh, Amreli and few in Bhavnagar district.

The last few

When Sasan Gir forests of Gujarat became the last bastion of the Asiatic lions, the species literally had nowhere else to go. Once a symbol of regal valour and ferocity, the lion symbol had adorned the palaces of many Indian kingdoms, sultanates and empires for ages. In fact, the earliest record of lions in India, it seems, are found on the famous steatite seals of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

But hunting during the British reign turned many living beasts to trophy heads adorning colonial walls, and by the end of the 19th century, India shockingly had merely 20-odd lions. The probable years of its extermination region-wise were Bihar - 1840, Delhi - 1834, Bhavalpur - 1842, Eastern Vindhyas and Bundelkhand - 1865, Central India & Rajasthan - 1870 and Western Aravallis - 1880. The last animal surviving in the wild outside Saurashtra was reported in 1884. Statistics

It was thus a pivotal moment when the then Nawab of Junagadh provided adequate protection to the animals and population of lion increased between the years 1904 to 1911. Lions were still being hunted though until shooting was rigidly controlled by the British Administration in 1913. Finally, in 1936, the first organised census showed there were 287 Asiatic lions left in the wild. Declaration of the Sasan Gir Sanctuary only ensured that these numbers continued to increase.

The present day status of the lions is not as turbulent. In the last decade, through active public support, conservation programmes and constant vigilance, the lions of Gir have fared well. Last census showed their population to be above 400 with a healthy number of adults as well as juveniles.

Interestingly, even in 2010, the Asiatic lion was expanding its territory, living further away from the restricted 1,412 sq km of the defined Sasan Gir National Park boundaries. The stable population even prompted the International Union for conservation of Nature (IUCN) to de-list the threatened status of Asiatic lions from Critically Endangered to Endangered. However, bigger family means the need for a bigger home and that is what may trigger an array of other concerns.

Officials believe there are 114 lions at present, out of the 411 counted in 2010, that live outside the known lion territories. It is only the upcoming 2015 lion population census though that would ascertain the exact number and expanded habitat of the mega predator. Meanwhile, in a country of 1.2 billion humans, where is the room to grow? Rise in conflict

In mid-January this year, a goods train mowed down two lionesses 30 km from the Gir forest. Last year, a male lion cub was killed on the same route. With more than 100,000 people sharing the same resources and land with the Asiatic Lion, conflicts between the local villagers and the animal is inevitable. Although, public support has been one of the biggest advantages for the successful protection of the wild predator in the state. But, will it continue if territorial conflicts become much more frequent and livestock loss a daily routine?

Also, unlike the Gir sanctuary, forest officers do not patrol the area outside the protected boundaries, and the present census points that it is exactly these regions where the lion is heading to, and is also the most vulnerable. “There are heavy vehicles, including loaders, moving in the area. I have personally seen lions close to such areas,” said Mangabhai Thapa — a resident of the village who was among the first to reach the lions that were killed by the goods train.

The areas where lions are frequently seen in Saurashtra are the same where future urban development plans include more mining belts, ports, highways and industries. The need of the hour, undoubtedly, is habitat diversification and second or third population sites for the lions. The Nawab of Junagadh did give the dying lions a second chance at life, but to truly give the animal its lost regal stature, it is necessary now to allow it to peacefully expand its kingdom.


Print Edition
By Lavkumar Khachar

Today, Monday 10th February, 2014 afternoon a reporter called from Ahmedabad asking me whether I had any information about the Supreme Court having given a favorable opinion against the moving of wild lions from the Gir in Saurashtra to Kuno in Madhya Pradesh. I had no information. Shortly after, I received a call from Kodinar south of the Gir informing me that there had been a positive ruling to a PIL moved by a NGO and that there was great excitement and revelry in Sasan. It was later that Bharat Jethwa, a former scientist with the GEER Foundation, Gandhinagar  rang up to inform me that he was just emerging from the Court in Delhi where a reprieve had been given to the earlier Supreme Court Order for the translocation of lions to Kuno! Now was the time for me to clearly explain why I was against the setting up of a satellite population of lions in Madhya Pradesh. Earlier, I had been asked by a young birdwatcher from Sasan why I was against sending a few lions to Madhya Pradesh which made me realize that I just would have to clearly indicate the reasons for my objections.

It may be in place here for me to remind my readers that way back in 1956, mine had been a lone voice against the transfer of wild lions from the Gir in the then Saurashtra State to the Chandra Prabha Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh! That experiment had failed and the same folly was being repeated more than half a century later! It may be worth recording that prior to Independence, the then Maharaja of Gwalior had released African lions close to the very area where the present introduction is being mooted; that experiment had singularly failed but under-scored by, if I remember facts correctly, a tragedy as one of the lions had taken to killing human beings and had to be shot. These early failures are being brushed aside by the very men who should have been cautioning against translocation of dangerous predators! Their argument being that the earlier attempts lacked scientific knowledge which they now possessed!

 In actual fact, ground realities during the two earlier attempts were far more favorable than those existing today; there were wider spaces uniformly populated by wild herbivores and a far smaller human population! Also, law enforcement was strict in contrast to it being rather lackadaisical if not totally nonexistent today.  Wildlife scientists should be the very last people recommending quixotic experiments of reintroduction of endangered species into areas that are not fenced as indeed none of India’s wildlife sanctuaries and National Parks are. The greater knowledge of population dynamics should highlight the folly of any such experimentation given the huge human pressures around all our open wildlife areas.

The most glaring proof is provided by the much vaunted Project Tiger which has been operating now for around four decades. We have had tigers disappearing from the Siraska and the Panna Tiger Sanctuaries and, an embarrassing fact being glossed over is that despite effective protection and management of prestigious Bandhavghad, Kanha, Ranthambhor, etc., there is no repopulation around these protected areas as indeed is happening with the lions outside the Gir. Efficient management will  result in increase in numbers and their spread; arguably then, the surplus tigers are disappearing into the highly organized and lucrative international trade in tiger parts a factor that had not been operational during the two earlier lion reintroduction experiments. If anything, Project Tiger has resulted in the formation of an efficient poacher network in Madhya Pradesh! Sending lions to Kuno would be sending them to an assured death; lion parts could well be passed off as tiger parts.

The spread of lions beyond the confines of the Gir and a steady repopulating of the former lion range in Saurashtra region of Gujarat is thanks to the acceptance of the large cat by the communities. What makes the entire story of the comeback of the Asiatic Lion so very significant is the acceptance of the Gujarat Wildlife Department crediting the good will of the rural communities for the lions being in great measure responsible for strengthening their efforts.  It is this synergy between human beings and the great predator that should be recognized and used as the bedrock for developing an innovative conservation program to revitalize large tracts of highly degraded countryside across which traditional agriculture and animal husbandry barely sustain the population with the only alternative for improving economies being  quarrying for limestone and setting up associated industries.  And, what is true of the lion in Saurashtra is true for the tiger and other charismatic wildlife in other parts of India. Wildlife scientists should see how their expertise can strengthen ‘in situ’ conservation initiatives and make wildlife an economic asset.

Scientific expertise must be directed towards the setting up of state of the art captive breeding facilities and the blue printing of protocols for the subsequent introduction of the bred animals into near wild situations.  Let Kuno be fenced and the entire lot of lions now in the Junagadh Sakar Bagh Zoo could be shifted there!! Rehabilitating these animals is what is posing a problem; Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have vast areas of degraded lands that could be converted into magnificent “lion landscapes”! Sensitively developed eco tourism would generate considerable revenues exponentially improving the life styles of otherwise impoverished populations. It bears repetition that with pressure lifted from the land, the natural vegetation would regenerate rapidly as only the flora of monsoon regions can resulting in a resurgence of the embattled fauna. Literally we would witness the regaining of Paradise Lost!

Setting up the Madhya Pradesh population it is argued would ensure that having the entire population would not go extinct on account of natural calamities like floods, drought or fire and inbreeding. In case of the Gir, forest fires cannot destroy the entire forest since the hill range run from west to east and the perennial water courses flow from north to south, effectively breaking the entire sanctuary into several sections that would preclude a fire destroying the entire area. The strong prevailing winds blow either from the South West to the North East or in the opposite direction and so, how ever so strong a fire, it would be effectively contained between the water courses.  The rivers have deep pools of water which never dry up and so even during the worst of droughts, there is enough water for animals to drink. In any case, the lions are no longer restricted to the confines of the Gir having spread out across cultivated countryside where there are plenty of water points provided for irrigation and domestic animals. This same spread ensures that no epidemic can affect the entire population, and besides; any outbreak of disease can be forestalled by regular immunization of both wild and domestic animals as part of the conservation effort.  The ever widening range precludes inbreeding. In any case the scientists could more effectively get involved genetically mapping the mega population and monitoring it on a regular basis.

                                                                                                                                                Lavkumar Khachar.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A single Gir pride, mostly female, to be first moved to MP

A single Gir pride, mostly female, to be first moved to MP
Indian Express

A single pride of five to ten Asiatic lions with 60-70 per cent female population is likely to be first set of lions to be translocated from Gujarat’s Gir forest to Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh over the next two years.

An expert report detailing the court-ordered translocation has recommended that a whole pride of lions from the core of the Gir forest be chosen for the experiment. A minimum of two male lions would also be moved, according to the action plan, which has been submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests by wildlife scientist Ravi Chellam and Y V Jhala from the Wildlife Institute of India.

The action plan, formulated keeping in mind a 25-year-long translocation programme, suggests that every three to five years, two-three lions — mostly male — should be translocated from Gir to Kuno to maintain the inter-linkage between lion populations in the two sanctuaries.

Having learnt their lesson from the translocation of tigers, efforts would be made to curb the ‘homing instincts’ of the lions. A one-acre fenced enclosure in Kuno sanctuary would be the first home of the translocated animals for three-six weeks so they get familiar with the geography of the new forest.

During a tiger’s relocation from Pench to Panna reserve, the animal kept trying to find her way back to Pench as the homing issue was not addressed.

December to February has been identified as the best season to translocate the lions. The process would be carried out after the animals are tranquillised and they would possibly through moved using IAF choppers — the journey takes about one hour.

The animals would be moved in groups of two-three. The exercise would also involve importing sophisticated radio collars for all lions, a secure enclosure, and qualified personnel. This staff would be provided with training, veterinary equipment and patrolling vehicles.

A team of experts and MoEF officials are expected to visit Kuno sanctuary this month. While there is now a healthy prey base thanks to the cheetal population, issues related to poaching and the gun culture in the area around the sanctuary would be reassessed, sources said.

Incidentally, the Gujarat government is opposed to translocation of lions from Gir. However, following a Supreme Court order in April 2013, the decks have been cleared for the exercise. The MoEF is expected to push through the implementation of the plan after financial approvals and other clearances. But the Gujarat government is expected to soon file a curative petition challenging the translocation.

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