No foul play in Gir lion deaths: Gujarat forest dept
The Times Of India
GANDHINAGAR: The Gujarat forest department on Friday claimed that the death of 11 lions over the past eight days in the state's Gir Sanctuary was due to infighting and liver problems, and not foul play.
The carcasses of 11 lions were found from Gir (East) forest range. Nine of these were found in the Dalkhaniya range and two were recovered from the Jashadhar range, officials had said.
For administrative purpose, the Gir forest has been divided into two parts -- east and west.
In a press release, the Gujarat government said that three lion cubs were killed by a male lion to establish dominance and two lionesses and an adult lion died from respiratory and hepatic (relating to the liver) failure.
The post-mortem reports of five other lions, including two cubs and one lioness, are awaited, it read.
Preliminary probe conducted by the state forest department has revealed that some "nomad" lions might have invaded the territory of a lion pride and may have tried to establish their dominance.
"Lions are territorial animals who live in prides. Infighting is common when a lion, heading a pride and controlling a territory, becomes old or is down with disease or injury," Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) G K Sinha told reporters.
"Mainly, it seems that the death of lions is due to infighting. It is the tendency of lions to covet other's territory. If a lion succeeds in defeating the head of a pride, he also tends to kill the cubs in the pride," Sinha said.
"In the present case, we have found bodies of two adult male lions, three female lions and six cubs," he said, ruling out poaching or man-animal conflict as reasons for the deaths.
Sinha said infighting was also the cause of deaths of the three lions who had liver problems.
"It is possible that some of the lions and cubs might have fled from that area after the attack (by nomad lions) and hid themselves at a place having no food.
"Thus, starvation may have led to infection and eventually to their deaths" the PCCF said.
To decrease cases of infighting, Sinha said the entire area, where the deaths were reported, will be screened by forest staff and appropriate action will be taken after getting the details.
The forest official said40 lions died every year due to various reasons and some 60-70 cubs are born in the same period.
"This way, the lion population is growing at a healthy rate of around five per cent. As against 411 lions in 2010, the population reached 523 in 2015. It shows a healthy growth rate of over 27 per cent in five years" Sinha said.
Though the state government has notified a protected area for lions, these wild cats many a times venture out due to their natural tendency, he said, adding that this migration does not mean that the current area is not enough for them.
"The lion is a wild animal. They are reclaiming their natural habitat. They are now expanding their territories in adjoining Bhavnagar, Amreli and even some coastal areas," Sinha said.
He said that the department is aware about the lion movements outside Gir and had devised a plan for it.
"In addition to the Gir Protected Area, we have planned to create a Conservation Reserve in 109 square kilometre area in Bhavnagar and Amreli districts to address this issue" Sinha added.
Following the incidents of death, which occurred between September 12 and 19, forest staff have captured five lions, who are believed to have been involved in the infighting, from that area Thursday, said officials.
These lions have been moved to a rescue centre, they added.
Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani also took cognisance of the matter and assured that steps will be taken against officials if found guilty of carelessness in performing their duties.
"We have taken this matter seriously. Lions are the pride of Gujarat. We will take appropriate steps to ensure that such incidents do not happen.
"We will take action against those found guilty of showing a callous approach," Rupani told reporters in Bharuch.
State forest minister Ganpat Vasava claimed that the lions had died due to infighting or infection, not due to poaching or drinking poison-laced liquid that locals sometimes place to get rid of the big cats.
"Our government is committed to the protection of lions. The CM is in constant touch. We have sent a team to the spot to conduct a probe. "Preliminary inquiry suggests that poaching or poisoning was not the reason behind the deaths," said Vasava.
The state government Thursday had ordered an inquiry after carcasses of 11 lions were found in Gir (East) division of the forest.
Additional chief secretary, forest and environment department, Dr Rajiv Kumar Gupta, had said the inquiry was being conducted by principal chief conservator of forest (Wildllife) A K Saxena.
As per the 2015 census, Gir is home to 523 lions, including 109 male, 201 female, 73 sub-adults and 140 cubs.