Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Lavish record of Gujarat’s pride


Lavish record of Gujarat's pride

The Times Of India



Gir Lion — Pride of Gujarat", a coffee table book on Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) authored by a Rajya Sabha member, Parimal Nathwani — and published by Times Group Books — presents a rich and comprehensive account of the royal animal in its only abode in the world, Gujarat.


Gujarat has strived to conserve Gir Lion in the pre-Independence and post-Independence eras. Mukesh D Ambani, CMD of RIL, in his foreword to the book, has said that the book is a tribute to Gujarat's sincere and systematic efforts to conserve the king of the jungle. It is indeed gratifying to see the state's efforts paying off, with Gir Lions attracting wildlife lovers from all over the world, he has written.


The book recounts the history of the wild cat starting from 65 million years ago. The book also reveals some hitherto unknown characteristics and myriad moods of the majestic animal and their coexistence with humans in and around Gir.


Nathwani has depicted the perils of translocating Gir Lions to Madhya Pradesh, as has been proposed; one such risk is the tiger-lion conflict. Further, in Gujarat, there is unique harmony between the lions and the cattle-rearers and other people living in and around the Gir forest. Such harmony would not be possible in Madhya Pradesh or any other place, he says. The author's apprehension that translocating Asiatic lions to Madhya Pradesh may increase the incidents of poaching is not baseless, considering the gun culture in the forests of other states especially Madhya Pradesh, which is under profound influence of Chambal Valley.


Nathwani has compared tigers and lions and highlighted the difference between their habits, characteristics and nature. Apart from that, he has also pointed out that there is a huge difference between the allocation of funds from the central government for the conservation of tigers under Project Tiger and for the lions. He has stressed the need to declare the lion as the National Animal of the country.

The engaging narrative of the book, which is packed with scientific and historical information and current topics, makes it an interesting read for common readers, wildlife lovers and researchers. The pictures used in the book are an added attraction.


This book also provides interesting information about the flora and fauna of the Gir forest, which will be useful for wildlife lovers, students and researchers.


At one point, 'Dekho Dekho Kaun Aaya, Gujarat Ka Sher Aaya' used to be a slogan raised in praise of Narendra Modi. Taking a cue from this, Nathwani has dedicated the book to Prime Minister Modi.



It''s a matter of great pride for Gujarat. Hope our efforts towards conservation will help maintain this species


Tushar Oza

The Prime Minister's passion for wildlife conservation and efforts towards creating a thriving habitat for Gir Lions as the chief minister of Gujarat were lauded by one and all. It was during his time as the chief minister, that an innovative initiative was taken up to construct parapets on open wells in Gir's periphery to prevent accidental deaths of lions.

The writer has included this aspect too in this book.

No track upgrade to save Gir heritage line


No track upgrade to save Gir heritage line

The Times Of India



AHMEDABAD: The Indian Railways has decided to exempt a few of its metre-gauge lines from being converted to broad gauge due to their tourism and heritage appeal. These routes include the meter gauge train between Veraval and Amreli which passes through the Sagar sanctuary.


The nearly 50-km stretch from Talala to Visavadar will soon be declared a heritage line. The proposal to preserve it as a heritage route will mean that the line passing through the sanctuary will never be converted to broad gauge.


Ram Ratan Nala, deputy conservator of forests, said: "The meter gauge train which connects Veraval and Amreli makes just four trips — two up and two down each way. The train travels about 18 km into the sanctuary. It enters the sanctuary from Sasan and ends its journey within the sanctuary from Kansiya Nesh."


"As it passes through the sanctuary, the train travels slowly of speed not more than 20 km per hour. Fortunately, so far there has been no incident of lion death on these tracks. There have been a couple of incidents where the train was halted as a lion was passing on the track," Nala said.


He further said that there are several underpasses which were originally constructed for flow of water but now they are being used by the lions.


According to officials, until now only five such stretches have been identified. They have not been converted to broad gauge but are being maintained as heritage lines. These stretches fall in Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. According to officials, most of these stretches pass through sanctuaries or tourist spots.


Officials said that the union railway ministry is thinking of running special heritage and tourist trains on these stretches. Rupa Srinivasan, the divisional railway manager, Bhavnagar, said they had been asked to conduct a feasibility study as this stretch will then have to be isolated from the other routes. "Also, separate facility for maintenance of these locomotives and coaches will have to be built. However, the proposal sent by the Bhavnagar division has been accepted in principal and a feasibility study will now be carried out," Srininvasan said.


Officials in Sasan said that even if the railways wants to convert these heritage routes there is hardly any possibility that the National Board for Wildlife will accord final approval of gauge conversion will lead to increase in speed which cannot be permitted.


These trains pass through the sanctuary between 11 pm and 12 noon while another set of train passes between 3 pm and 4:30 pm. The passenger traffic was not more than 50 passengers per trip, the officials said.

Gujarat, where there is a concern over disappearing lions


Gujarat, where there is a concern over disappearing lions

The Hindu



Gir in Gujarat, the last abode of Asiatic lions in Asia, has lost an alarmingly large number of the endangered wild cats in two years. On March 28, a report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) was tabled in the Gujarat Assembly. It listed huge "flaws" in lion conservation efforts in the State.


What happened?

Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava told the Assembly that 184 lions had died in two years: 104 in 2016 and 80 in 2017. As many as 32 died of "unnatural causes" like falling into wells or getting run over by trains in the same period at the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary. The dead included cubs too. The high number of deaths prompted the High Court to take suo motu cognizance of the issue. The court took the authorities to task this March, directing them to get back on measures being taken by the Environment and Forest Department to ensure adequate protection to lions.


Why the conflict?

Significantly, the number of lion attacks on livestock and humans in 2016 and 2017 was pegged at 398, raising serious concerns about a man-lion conflict in eight to nine districts in the coastal Saurashtra region. Responding to a question by Congress legislator Gyasuddin Sheikh, Mr. Vasava admitted that wells without parapet walls often became death traps for the animals.


There are 27 open wells in Amreli district near the sanctuary, and the government has promised to build parapet walls "as soon as possible." Several open wells have already been secured. The other preventive measures are construction of fences along the rail track in Amreli district and building speedhumps on roads in the sanctuary.


Why no new habitat?

As per the 2015 census, there were 523 lions in and around the Gir sanctuary. Unfortunately, though the total population of Asiatic lions increased from 359 in 2005 to 523 in 2015, no new protected habitat was approved by the State government since 2008. As stated in the CAG report, the number of lions outside the protected area in 2011 was 108, which increased by 54.6% to 167 in 2015. The Gir Protected Area includes the Gir, Girnar, Paniya and Mitiyala sanctuaries and the Gir National Park. To provide a safe corridor for the lions moving out of the Gir Protected Area, the Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) had proposed a new sanctuary spread over 30,000 hectares in Amreli and Bhavnagar districts in 2005. Later, the plan was revised, and the new region was proposed to be a conservation reserve (CR) spread across 10,953 hectares. The CAG observed that as on May 2017, the Revenue Department had not transferred 4,800 hectares of wasteland to the Forest Department for setting up the conservation reserve. "Thus, the declaration of the lion habitat area as a conservation reserve is pending despite the lapse of 11 years," it said. It questioned the non-approval of a new protected area despite "high instances of deaths of lions" in their present habitat. The CAG also pointed out that the genome mapping project was being handled by an agency which did not possess the expertise, and the progress was slow.


What is their future?

The government, which has always taken pride in showcasing Gujarat as the only habitat of Asiatic lions, refuses to translocate some of them to Madhya Pradesh despite a Supreme Court order. It must make sincere efforts to provide adequate protection to the animals moving out to non-protected areas. It must increase the size of the protected areas to prevent more lions from dying, wildlife experts say.

The endangered Asiatic lion faces a new threat: wildlife tourism


The endangered Asiatic lion faces a new threat: wildlife tourism

The Hindu



The lion's growing population and dispersal outside Gir has spurred unregulated wildlife tourism

I love lions. I love to watch them," declared a farmer I was interviewing in Dalkhaniya village in Gujarat's Amreli district as part of my social survey in the agrarian landscape outside the Gir Protected Area (PA). I found myself beaming at him and concluded that this reflected a remarkable local acceptance and love for lions.


But he continued: "…in the forest, that is. But in the farm, I prefer to see oxen." After a surprised pause, my colleagues and I burst out laughing. We understood what he was trying to say — "We love lions but prefer them to be restricted to the forest."


My research over 15 years has been all about deciphering the dynamics of the remarkable coexistence of wildlife and people in this farm-habitation-forest matrix — the fears, the concerns, the humour that mark people's perceptions of predators in their midst. But I am also acutely aware of how delicate this balance in the coexistence is, and how easily the scales can tip, endangering an entire species.


Gir and its environs are the last wild refuges of the endangered Asiatic lion. The remarkable growth in the lion population in this landscape — from about 300 in 1995 to over 500 in 2015 — points to the success of conservation management over decades. In 2015-2016, Gujarat celebrated the Golden Jubilee of conservation management of the Asiatic lion — it had been 50 years since Gir was declared a protected area in 1965.


Over the last 25 years or so, a notable trend in lion distribution has been recorded in the area: the animals, their numbers up, are venturing far out of the protected area and have come to live in a staggering range of habitats — hilly tracts, coasts, pastures and farmlands.


While the growing population and the habitat expansion are great news for lion conservation, they have also brought lions closer to people outside the PA. This also means there are more incidents of livestock depredation and of attacks on people by lions. Reports of lions dying due to unnatural causes — railway and road accidents, electrocution, drowning in open wells and from the occasional cases of carcass poisoning — are also causing alarm. And so, safeguarding lions and people outside the PA has lately become a challenge for the forest department.


The lion's dispersal has also resulted in another disturbing phenomenon: a huge increase in unregulated wildlife tourism around the protected area. Videos of tourists on bikes and cars chasing lions over several kilometres at night have been widely shared on social media. The more affluent of these 'wildlife enthusiasts' are willing to pay up to 20,000 to see lions. "They are after all safe in their vehicles. It is very different for people like us who often have to walk alone in these parts with just a torch in our hand. We can't feel the same enthusiasm," said a resident of Malshika village in Amreli district. The village residents I speak to often say that this kind of brazen tourism affects the largely harmonious dynamic between the villagers and big cats, making the animals more irritable and aggressive.


Temple at the core


The increasing number of visitors each year is just a small part of the problem: the boom in wildlife and religious tourism in the area is changing the landscape by catalysing urbanisation, altering land-use, and changing the profile and influence of stakeholders.


Meanwhile, the State government in 2017 permitted night-stays at the Kankai temple located in the core area of the Gir National Park, despite concerns from wildlife experts. Although the permission comes with regulations, the visitors who slip in through this new loophole will mostly belong to the 'eco-tourism' category. The consequence would be increased night-time traffic, noise and disturbance to wildlife by people visiting the temple. This, despite the fact that the proposal had been opposed tooth and nail for over 20 years or more.


Another worrying proposal is the State government's plan to reduce the eco-sensitive zone around Gir. An eco-sensitive zone, as per the environment ministry guidelines, can extend to 10 km around a PA. Here certain development activities are prohibited. As for Gir, the eco-sensitive zone could be reduced to less than 1 km in certain areas, opening these parts to mining and tourism. Both the night-time permits to the Kankai temple and the delineation of eco-sensitive zones are being challenged through PILs and are being examined by the judiciary.


There is yet another recent development that is sure to cause changes in the landscape in the form of habitat loss, land degradation through roads, resorts, traffic and pollution: the clearance for the Ambardi interpretation zone, essentially a safari park where tourists can drive around to see captive lions in enclosed natural environments. This interpretation zone is just 15 km from the protected area.


The future of a healthy lion population calls for a rollback on a lot of decisions taken in recent times, whether related to delineating eco-sensitive zones, promoting tourism or yielding to the demands of powerful lobby groups. We must remember that the agro-pastoral landscape around the sanctuary is as important as dedicated management, political will, people's tolerance and the lion's resilience in contributing to the success of Asiatic lion conservation. Preserving this entire matrix will determine whether there will be another milestone jubilee celebration in the future.


The author is a wildlife biologist who has been involved with research on the Asiatic lion for over 15 years.

Jungle raj in Gir


Jungle raj in Gir

Business Standerd



Five years after the Supreme Court ordered the translocation of some Asiatic lions from their only home in the Gir forests of Gujarat to a sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, a committee got around to discuss the details of the exercise. This meeting was in response to a contempt petition filed in the apex court by a Madhya Pradesh activist against the government's inaction.


The fact that it needed prodding by the highest court in the land to get things moving on saving the Asiatic lion says much about the destructive impact of local politics on wildlife conservation. Man-animal conflicts ...

Saturday, April 07, 2018




The Pioneer



Amid row over a video that became viral showing a cow offered as bait to three lionesses, the State forest department ordered enquiry over the entire episode.


The State forest department was in the process to identify timing and location of the video and on that basis would take strict action against those involved in such unlawful activities, said Chief Wildlife Warden and Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) GK Sinha.


Sources in the state forest department said that prima facie it looked that the incident occurred outside the Gir Sanctuary and somewhere near Girnar Forest situated on the outskirts of Mountain town Junagadh. The investigation team is in the process to understand the video was taken recently or the old video released in the social media.


"In any case the state forest department is taking the incident extremely seriously as live bait and that too a cow offered to the big cats. We are also investigating whether it was organised 'Lion Show' to woo tourists or not," said a senior forest official.


Post infamous poaching of Asiatic Lions in the year 2007 by Madhya Pradesh based gang; the Gujarat Government became extra vigilant on conservation of lions. With intention to prevent poaching and incidents related to alleged illegal 'Lion Shows' inside as well as outside the Gir Sanctuary, the State Government formed Monthly Monitoring Committee in which State forest department and police department officials are working in co-ordination. Meetings of the committee are being regularly convened once in every month.


Despite such precautionary measures many in and around the Gir Sanctuary are claiming about illegal 'Lion Shows' being held regularly for select tourists for a particular price. Some also went on to say that without involvement of forest staff at the ground level such shows are not possible.


Exist only in Gujarat's Gir Forest – Panthera Leo persica – better known as Asiatic Lions is listed as 'Endangered' by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). As per the last census, there are 523 Asiatic Lions in Gir and surrounding areas.

It is worth mentioning that in a case related to offering bait to lions the state forest department on 20th June 2017 arrested four persons from Visavadar town situated near the Gir Sanctuary and filed a case against them. Similarly on 21st February a case was filed against a truck driver who was arrested for harassing and chasing Asiatic Lions on Pipavav—Ambardi Road passing in the proximity of Gir forest.



Gujarat: Video of lion show with live bait goes viral


Gujarat: Video of lion show with live bait goes viral

The Times Of India



AHMEDABAD: A video showing three lionesses killing a cow used as live bait has gone viral on social media. This is the first time a video showing the use of live bait has emerged. After receiving initial reports, the forest department began an inquiry. It says the video may have been shot inside the Girnar Sanctuary.


Officials involved in the investigation said the landscape seems to indicate that the video was shot in the Girnar sanctuary area. The video shows a cow tied to a tree and three lionesses approaching from from different sides. The cow is attacked and dragged toward a forested area. The video has the voice of a local person, who tries to speak Hindi but uses Gujarati words. The local person is heard saying, "Don't go close, or she will take the bait away."


The effort to speak Hindi indicates this could be a live bait show organized for a visitor who does not understand Gujarati.


With the video viral, the forest department is investigating who filmed it and where. "We have received the video and are looking at the area. The landscape appears to be near Girnar Sanctuary. As the land features are similar inside and outside the sanctuary it cannot be said for sure. We are alsoexamining if it was shot recently," said CCF A P Singh.A senior officer with the Gandhinagar forest department said Maneka Gandhi, the prominent animal welfare activist, had called the forest department and asked them to act against those involved.There have been reports that local people were offering bait to lions and holding illegal "lion shows" for a price between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 per show. This is the first time a video showing live bait has appeared on social media. Forest department officials said it appears that the video was shot within the sanctuary area and forest department personnel at the beat guard level may be complicit, which would be a serious issueIn


Video: Gujarat: Three lionesses hunt cow, video goes viral

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Population spurt, space crunch drive lions of Gir into death traps


Population spurt, space crunch drive lions of Gir into death traps




A tiny temple in Bherayi, a village in Gujarat's Amreli district, reflects the residents' concern over the wellbeing of their pride — the Asiatic lion in the Gir National Park.


The shrine, which doubles up as a memorial, was built recently to make locals and authorities aware of the need for safety of the lions following the death of two lionesses in what is now called Greater Gir.


"Deeply disturbed by the deaths, we built the memorial," said Bhikha Jethva of the Lion Nature Foundation, a non-government conservation group, this week.


Such efforts with the government's help gave Gir — the only place on earth where Asiatic lions are found in the wild — a fresh lease of life.


The lion population rose from an alarmingly low 13 in 1913 to a healthy 523 in 2015. And 40% of these lions now live in Amreli, Bhavnagar, Gir Somnath and Porbandar districts in the Saurashtra region, moving through 19 corridors covering 22,000 square km.

Migration allowed a larger prey base for the lions, but this has also become their bane.


Gujarat forest minister Ganpat Vasava said in the state assembly on March 5 that Gir lost 184 lions in the past two years at an annual average of 92, compared to the yearly average of 62 deaths between 2010 and 2015. Around one-third of these deaths were "unnatural" — being run over by trains along tracks running through the forest, drowning in wells left uncovered, and getting electrocuted by electric fences, the minister said.


Spread over 1,882 square km, Gir has the capacity to accommodate around 300 lions.


The population spurt has forced the lions to migrate to newer areas through the corridors which, according to a forest official who did not want to be identified, provide a natural balancing act.


"But trouble occurs when there are obstructions in the free movement of lions through these corridors," said Ram Ratan Nala, deputy chief conservator of forest, in charge of two Gir regions.


These obstacles are five state highways and railway lines cutting through the lions' land. These apart, there are ports, cement factories and limestone mines along the coastal corridor abutting the sanctuary. Around 23 shrines along highways through the jungle bring the lions in direct conflict with the people.


A 30km fence along the Rajula -Pipava railway tracks, built in 2016, has claimed 14 lions in the past two years.


"The fencing has put an additional obstruction to wild cats in moving along the coastal corridor," said Jethva of the Lion Nature Foundation.


Uncovered wells are another cause of worry. The forest department says 25,000 wells in and around the sanctuary have been covered with parapets. "But lions are venturing into newer areas and open wells will continue to remain death traps," Nala said.


Another killer are the electric fences farmers have installed to protect crops from animals such blue bulls. Lions get electrocuted chasing their prey.


The debate over Gir's growing lion population and shrinking habitat has touched the park's tour guides and drivers of open Gypsies carrying tourists and wildlife enthusiasts.


"Lions have been venturing into villages for a long time. But now we are able to see them more often," said 22-year-old driver Appu Bloch, who recently spotted a pair of lions at a railway station.


Many households have rigged their homes, crop fields and cattle pens with high barbed wire and electric fences. According to Jumma Katiya, a resident of Sasan village, the fencing and safety measures are a "small sacrifice" they have made for the lions, knowing little that these have caused more harm than good.


The Gujarat State Save Environment Committee (GSSEC), a Saurashtra-based conservation group, wants the lions returned to the sanctuary, but the forest department calls it an "impossible" demand.


Wildlife experts say translocation of Gir lions to Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh is a possible solution. But critics of this move argue that the best wildlife practices of Gir cannot be replicated elsewhere. The Supreme Court in 2013 approved the relocation to Kuno.


Kishor Kotecha of Wildlife Conservation Trust, Rajkot, filed a petition in the top court challenging the relocation plan. The top court will hear the plea this April. "Natural deaths have increased due to rise in population. We must try to restrict the number of unnatural deaths," he said.


People like safari driver Bloch don't want the relocation to happen. They say they don't mind lions lurking near their homes as they are part of the family.


"No one gives away a family member," he said, responding to the court order to shift some of Gir's lions to Kuno Palpur to ease pressure on the Gujarat park.


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