Friday, May 25, 2018






The State government may be excited about increasing the capacity of water bodies by desilting, dredging or deepening them, but its enthusiasm has hit a rough patch with a PIL filed against the desiltation work sanctioned in the territory of Gir national park.


The PIL has been filed in the Gujarat High Court by a local activist objecting to the desilting work at the Singhoda Dam in the territory of Gir National Park under the Jal Sanchay Scheme initiated by the state government recently. It is likely to be heard on Wednesday.


The permission was granted by the chief conservator of forest (CCF) and the district collector ahead of proposed visit of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani. As per the PIL, about 1,000 tractors have begun to move each day inside the periphery of the Gir National Park despite it being a prohibited area.


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"The sarpanch of Jamwala village has announced that the CM will visit Singhoda Dam for desiltation under the Jal Sanchay Yojna. The scheme is very well thought-out and planned for the state but it cannot be permitted inside the National Park," the PIL filed by Shailendrasinh Jadeja stated.


It added, "The work will happen specifically in the heart of Gir forest which is home to several crocodiles. It is that time of the year when a number of eggs are laid in and around the dam. The Singhoda dam is also home for 10 Asiatic lions, including four cubs."


Objecting to the desiltation work, the PIL stated, "It is pertinent to note that the objective of the said scheme of the government is commendable and very useful for the human habitats.


However, it is an admitted position of fact that the wild animals are to be given more preference than the humans. Therefore, the government should not go ahead."

PIL opposes plan to de-silt Shinghoda dam


PIL opposes plan to de-silt Shinghoda dam

The Times Of India


AHMEDABAD: A public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a Rajkot-based citizen on Monday before the Gujarat high court challenged the plan to de-silt Shinghoda dam, inside the Gir sanctuary, in Gir-Somnath district under 'Jal Sanchay Yojna' of Gujarat government for water conservation.


The PIL moved by Shailendrasinh Jadeja, a member of Animal Welfare Board of India, submits that the Gir-Somanth district collector ordered de-silting of Shinghoda dam on May 8 and permitted about 1,000 tractors inside the periphery of the Gir National Park which is a prohibited area according to the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act.


The PIL further stated that Gujarat chief minister is scheduled to visit the dam for review of the scheme. The petitioner states, "This cannot be permitted inside the Gir as innumerable crocodiles reside in the dam and it is the time of the year when a number of eggs are found in and around the dam. The dam is also home for 10 Asiatic lions which include four cubs."


The petitioner contended that the collector did not have any jurisdiction or authority to pass the order as it is contrary to the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act.

PIL filed in Gujarat High Court against desilting of dam in Gir


PIL filed in Gujarat High Court against desilting of dam in Gir

The Indian Express


A PIL has been filed in the Gujarat High Court, seeking stay on the ongoing desilting work at Singhoda dam located in the Gir National Park. The desilting work at the dam is part of the state government's ongoing water conservation campaign.


Stating that the desilting work at the dam is in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act, the PIL filed by Shailendrasinh Jadeja, a resident of Rajkot, stated the District Collector of Gir-Somnath has allowed movement of about 1,000 tractors per day inside the periphery of the national park which is a prohibited area under the provision of the Wildlife Protection Act.


While praising the state government's water conservation campaign as "very well thought out and planned for the state", the petitioner said that "the same cannot be permitted inside the national park, specifically in the heart of the Gir forest wherein innumerable crocodiles reside and it is the time of the year when there are a number of eggs in and around the dam".


The Singhoda dam is also home to 10 Asiatic Lions, it stated.


"On May 1, the chief conservator of forest and other members had met to consider the aspect of desiltation after considering the Wildlife Protection Act… They seem to have misinterpreted the provision and have permitted the desiltation work," the PIL stated.


The PIL is likely to be taken up on Wednesday.

NBWL ignores HC order, approves mining in Gir eco-sensitive zone


NBWL ignores HC order, approves mining in Gir eco-sensitive zone

The Times Of India


AHMEDABAD: The National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), at its 48th meeting held on March 27, had allowed mining on 417.35 hectares of the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of Gir sanctuary — the last abode of the Asiatic Lion — despite the Gujarat high court staying issuance of the final notification by the Centre, delineating the area around the sanctuary to be treated as an eco-sensitive zone. The court directed so in April 2017, after a public interest litigation (PIL) challenged the state government's proposal to reduce the area of the ESZ from 3.33 lakh hectares — as notified by the Ministry of Environment Forest in October 25, 2016 — to 1.14 lakh hectares.


The minutes of the NBWL meeting, released on April 18, state, "The standing committee on the proposal was briefed and stated that the project involves the mining of limestone over an area 417.35 hectares — 414.85 hectares of private revenue land and 2.51 hectares of government wasteland — at Sugala and Jagatiya villages and are situated at 6.25km from the boundary of Gir Wildlife Sanctuary." It further says, "After discussions, the standing committee decided to recommend the proposal along with the conditions and the wildlife mitigation measures stipulated by the state chief wildlife warden (CWLW). The annual compliance certificate on the stipulated conditions should be submitted by the user agency to the state CWLW."


The ministry of environment forest, climate change, had included 3.33 lakh hectares of area surrounding the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park comprising 291 villages as eco-sensitive zone. However, the state government in a new proposal sent to the ministry proposed to reduced the area to 1.14 lakh hectares consisting of 191 villages. The division bench of Chief Justice R Subhash Reddy and V M Pancholi, while hearing the PIL challenging the state governments decision, ordered a stay on issuance of final notification and issued notices to the central and state governments.


A senior forest department official said that the boundaries of the proposed ESZ, which was challenged in the HC, is as close to 500 metres from the sanctuary. "The maximum distance is of four km," he added. Gir sanctuary is home to 523 lions, according to the latest census, out of which 168 lions live outside the protected area. More than 300 lions have died in the past five years, of which 25 deaths were unnatural.


According to the official, "The two villages marked for mining activity — Sugala and Jagatiya in Kodinar taluka of Junagadh — were in the list of ESZ villages in the draft notification. However in the revised proposal of the state government, the villages were not included."


The official said that the permission for mining activity in an area as close as 6km from the sanctuary will be disastrous for the lions as the lions also move outside the sanctuary. He said the CWLW had earlier stated that clearance to any project in the area would be given only after high court order. "Surprisingly, the authorities decided not to wait for the court directive and gave permission to mining activity in the zone under consideration," he said. Principal chief conservator of forest, G K Sinha, was not available for his comments.

Monday, May 21, 2018




Ahmedabad Mirror


Ahmedabad: One more video clip showing a lion being offered live bait has gone viral on social media. The video is suspected to have been shot in Una. Earlier, seven people had been arrested in a case after a video clip that was shot in Dhari had gone viral.


In the latest clip, a calf is seen tied to a peg, and as the lion approaches a couple of people are heard talking in Gujarati. Once again, this clip has been shot outside the sanctuary area, raising serious questions about the monitoring of lions in the greater Gir area that is in districts of Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar.


Officials in the forest department, who have seen the clip, say that the landscape appears to be in the revenue area of Una. They said it appears that the 'guide' is carrying a walkie talkie handset, as there is a message which is flashed in the end asking the person to give a record of something.


The officials said in this case too, a calf was tied and left to be attacked by the lion. The spectator group then moves towards the lion and gets close when the lion eats the calf.


An officer said that farmers living in the revenue area are involved in such illegal activity. The forest department arrested Sohil Garana in April, the son of a former forest department employee, and then found that such activity was rampant across Saurashtra, wherever there was the permanent presence of lions.


Forest officials involved in the earlier investigation said they had found 200-odd videos from the seven persons arrested in the case, including Garana. Officials said the six others had deleted the videos from their mobile phones, but they will be sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory to retrieve the deleted data.




An investigator said that with the help of beat guards and guides, people like Garana target families who were unable to view lions during their safaris within the sanctuary. They also stay in touch with farmhouse owners and hotel staff, who lure tourists to the illegal shows by showing them the video clips.


A family could be charged anything from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 for an illegal lion show. If they wanted to shoot the lion making the kill, the charge would be from Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000. The charges vary according to the number of members in the visiting group, said forest officials.

Nine Lions Seen Crossing Road in Gujarat’s Gir Forest Area; Video Goes Viral


Nine Lions Seen Crossing Road in Gujarat's Gir Forest Area; Video Goes Viral


The Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, also known as Sasan Gir boasts a large number of lions. The forest area in Gujarat is famous for a number of lion sightings, which when spotted by human beings seem wondrous and terrifying. However, such occurrences have become common in areas close to the forest. Recently, a video was captured by a tourist in which we can see nine lions trying to cross the street in the Sasan Gir area of Gujarat.


The video seems to be quite fascinating as we can see a herd of lions taking pride of the road. In the clip, we can see 6 lionesses and three lion cubs crossing the road. The lionesses are known to be quite protective of their cubs, and this video is proof of that. The video shows 3 lionesses walking just before the three little cubs, followed by the other three lionesses. The tourist who captured the video on his mobile camera seems to be thrilled while shooting the unusual moment.


There have been many such instances of lions taking pride of the streets. A few months back, a disturbing video of a lioness and three cubs being chased by a trucker had gone viral and had sparked an outrage on social media. The incident happened in the same Gir area in Gujarat.  Following this, the forest department had promised an enquiry, but till date, no probe has been done. More awareness and information about protecting wildlife needs to be generated among the masses, and the offenders should be booked, in order to avoid such instances.

Two more held for chinkara poaching in Khambha forest


Two more held for chinkara poaching in Khambha forest



Rajkot: The forest department arrested two persons in connection with the poaching of chinkara (Indian Gazelle) from Mitiyala village of Amreli district on Monday.


The accused Dhirubhai Arjanbhai Delvania (25) and Arvind Nathabhai Sitapara (33), both from Mityala village, had allegedly killed the chinkara on the night of May 5 when over 100 forest officers were on their prowl.Forest officials said that the accused duo will be produced in the court on Tuesday.


One accused was arrested earlier with a country-made gun.According to forest officials, both Delvania and Sitapara were engaged in the diamond polishing industry in Savarkundla town of Amreli.On May 5, dramatic scenes were witnessed as one of the poachers had shot dead a chinkara right in front of the team of forest officials even as two managed to flee into Khambha forest taking advantage of the dark.


While one of the alleged poacher was nabbed, two of his accomplices (who were arrested on Monday) managed to give foresters the slip and escaped into the dark."We want to give strong message to those violating wildlife rules.


All three accused have been arrested for killing Schedule-1 animal and they will be prosecuted according to law," said Dr T Karuppasamy, deputy conservator of forest Gir (east) division.According to the forest department sources, Delvania and Sitapara were involved in poaching since past 2-3 years.


The accused had fled after the incident of May 5 and it was difficult for the forest department to trace them.

Lion mothers cubs after lioness dies


Lion mothers cubs after lioness dies

The Times Of India


AHMEDABAD: There's nothing quite like mother's love. More so in the lion kingdom where child rearing is almost exclusively a mother's domain with fathers known to resort to cannibalism. In such a scenario, the Bedhia Nar, a lion from Bedhia village of Gir-Somnath district, has rewritten parenting rules in the last abode of Asiatic lions in the world.


The lion christened as 'Bedhia Nar' has single-handedly raised his three cubs — all aged two — just like a lioness would have. The cubs were barely three months old when the lioness got electrocuted while entering a farm. The pride did not have any other lioness.


This rare departure in behaviour of the big cat was first noticed by naturalists Jalpan Rupapara and Purvesh Kacha in 2016. The naturalists, both medical practitioners, documented the lion's activities with 26 CCTV night vision cameras after seeking special permission from forest department for two years. The male lion not only hunted and fed the cubs, but also taught them to hunt and hid them while it was away.


Lionesses usually hide cubs from lions


"Never in our wildest imagination did we expect the lion will be so responsible for its cubs," says Rupapara. He adds, "Generally, lions do not actively participate in child rearing. In fact, a lioness would generally keep cubs away from the lion fearing harm as Big Cats are known to attack their litter if they suspect the cubs' paternity. But the Bedhia lion took over mothering the three month old cubs after the lioness died," said Rupapara, a radiologist by profession.


Kacha, an anesthetist, underscores that the Bedhia lion even avoided mating for two years and never allowed a lioness to come near him purportedly fearing that the "step-mother" may harm his cubs.


The lion has been documented to have mothered the cubs well into their sub adulthood for the past two years. "These days the cubs have begun to hunt, while the lion closely follows them, keeping a watch. The cubs even share their food with their father," says Rupapara who added that they continue to monitor the lions for next two months and submit a detailed research paper on the Bedhia lion's exceptional parenting behavior.


Chief conservator of forest, AP Singh says, "We had allowed the doctor-duo to conduct this exceptional research in greater Gir area. Earlier too they have given us valuable inputs on prevalence of flourosis disease in lions and lion migration pattern through their studies that helped us chalk several policies in Greater Gir area."


HS Singh, a lion expert and member of the National Board for Wildlife, says, "The Bedhia lion's behavior is rare considering that lions usually do not take care of their cubs. In case of death of the mother, 'aunts' in the pride takes on the responsibility of bringing up the cubs. With probably no lioness in his pride, the lion solely assumed the dual responsibility of a father as well as mother," said Singh.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Man arrested for allegedly poaching chinkara


Man arrested for allegedly poaching chinkara



AHMEDABAD: A man was arrested for allegedly poaching a chinkara in Amreli district of Gujarat, a forest department official said today."During patrolling last night, our officials arrested a man for killing a chinkara ( Indian gazelle ) near Bhad in Dhari taluka," said T Karuppasamy, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Gir (East) Division.Forest officials reached the spot soon after the animal was shot dead by three poachers using a country-made pistol, Karuppasamy said.The officials nabbed one of them while the other two managed to flee, he said."An FIR was lodged against them under section 9 (2) of the Indian Wildlife Act , 1960 for illegal hunting, and further investigation is underway," he said..

Chinkara killed near Gir forest, one arrested


Chinkara killed near Gir forest, one arrested

The Indian Express


A chinkara or Indian gazelle was shot dead by poachers at Bhad village near Mitiyala Wildlife Sanctuary in Gir (East) forest division of Amreli district in the wee hours of Sunday. The poachers, however, managed to flee, leaving behind the chinkara's body, sources said.


Forest officers said that they were camping at Bhad, a village in Khambha taluka, on Saturday night after getting a tip-off of three poachers planning to hunt Indian gazelles in the area.


Early Sunday morning, forest officials heard gunshots and they rushed in the direction of the sound. Forest Range Officer Kapil Bhatiya fired two rounds of fire in the air from his service revolver and asked the poachers to surrender. However, the poachers managed to run away. Later, forest officials launched a combing operation in the area which continued till around 4 am on Sunday. During the combing, a man was arrested. Later, they recovered a firearm allegedly used in the hunting, sources said.


Popularly called chinkara, Indian gazelle has been put in Schedule-I of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and thus enjoys the highest legal protection in the country. It's hunting can result into seven years of imprisonment and fine.


Forest officers said that an offence has been registered against three unidentified men at Khambha range forest office for allegedly hunting the Indian gazelle. "We have also arrested one person and further investigation is on," Aniruddha Pratap Singh, Chief Conservator of Forests of Junagadh Wildlife Circle told The Indian Express.






A grave water crisis in Brihad Gir threatens to bring the terrifying roar of the lions once heard within the confines of Gir sanctuary and adjacent areas closer to human settlements, as lions drift to newer places in search of drinking water. Drying water bodies and depleting water sources in lion territory has heightened the water scarcity in Brihad Gir, the extended peripheral areas where lions have made newer homes following increase in population and forest authorities have started excavating trenches for artificial water holes to provide water through tankers to lions in newer areas. What has fuelled the crisis are the malfunctioning windmills within the area.


The indicators


Local residents say that aggressive lion behaviour, enlargement of movement area and sighting of lions in village areas that are indications of depleting water resources in the lion habitat are becoming more evident. The recent incident where two male lions killed a male lion at Liliya in Amreli district is said to be a case in point.


Water scarcity in the region has affected lions in Liliya Krankach area that has some 80 lions according to the 14th lion estimation conducted in 2015. There are 20 artificial water holes and several windmills in Liliya.


Liliya resident and environmental activist Manoj Joshi said, "Of the several windmills, five are not working and of the remaining three have bitter or salty water that is unsuitable for animals. Many artificial water holes are not filled regularly. Besides, this being a revenue area, lions share the water with cow and buffalo herds. This gap between demand and supply affects the lions. The forest department is struggling to fill up water points with the limited vehicles that they have."


"The Gagadiya and Shentrunji rivers that usually had shallow water levels have gone completely dry. Besides, villages around the area also facing water problems. There are eight lion cubs in the area this season and water needs to be replenished for them at the earliest," Joshi said.


Joshi said, several villages in Saurashtra have started spotting lions wandering into farms areas for water. Lions drift towards Shetrunji River in Palitana due to water scarcity. Besides, increase in population has also led to lions searching for newer homes.


Chief Conservator of Forests, Junagadh, A P Singh, said, "We have already serviced equipment like solar panels and windmills and readied water tankers. We have increased some water holes as per requirement and our staff is on standby to identify locations for new water holes. Villages outside Gir have been told to inform us of lion movements to enable us to make arrangements."


Depleting water levels


Amreli resident and environment activist Govind Pandya said, "Water levels are depleting and some areas are facing water scarcity. This has led to an increase in movement of lions who enter fields in search of water."


T Karuppasamy, Deputy Conservator of Forest, Gir East said, "We have already put several extra water points. Our team is keeping a constant watch on lion movement in the entire range to help us set up extra water points where required. As of now there is sufficient water for lions even outside sanctuary area."


Dr Sakkira Begum R, Deputy Conservator of Forest, Amreli, told Mirror, "I will not share the exact number of water points for safety of animals but there are a few windmills under maintenance. We have deputed staff to check water quality at windmills that are working. We do not fill up a few water points deliberately as these locations are potential spots for illegal lion shows. We have made separate arrangement for water in those areas. We have not felt the need to increase number of waterholes in the area so far, but we have two water tankers that fill them up regularly."

Yagna in Gir for wildlife, CM Vijay Rupani backs out


Yagna in Gir for wildlife, CM Vijay Rupani backs out

Daily News & Analysis


A havan deep inside the Gir sanctuary in the Kankai Mata temple for the benefit of 'wildlife' has the environmentalists and lion lovers in the state worried.


They worry that the yagna of 108 kund (pits) while bringing no tangible benefit to the wildlife will end up bringing hordes of people to the sanctuary.


The invite for the same states that the yagna, that will last from morning to evening, is being performed for the welfare of animals, wildlife as well as to ensure the protection of the environment and is the way shown by our rishi munis!


Over 12 specials invitees including the chief minister and several MLAs and ministers were expected to take part. A general invitation has also been forwarded to all and sundry. Sources in the Chief Minister's Office (CMO) clarified that Vijay Rupani will not be attending the event. "It is not due to any protest but he has a tight schedule and everyone is concentrating on the water crisis," said a source in the CMO.


"What is the point of having a havan inside a sanctuary to benefit wildlife? How exactly does it benefit wildlife? We are scratching our heads trying to figure this," said Kishorbhai Kotecha, an environmental activist who has worked on various issues including lion conservation.


"With the event, look at the number of people who will be inside the sanctuary. The government has already given permission for night stay for pilgrims at Kankai Mata temple and that too will lead to rise in illegal wildlife tourism in Gir," said Kotecha,


CCF, Junagadh Wildlife Circle, AP Singh under whose jurisdiction the temple and the sanctuary fall could not be contacted for his comments. A message to him also went unreplied.


It should be noted that several wildlife activist including senior officials of the forest department have reservations about the government's nod to allow 50 pilgrims for night stay at the temple.


Earlier the pilgrims had to return by evening but now with the new permission, many fear that tourists in the garb of devotees will make it to the sanctuary to enjoy illegal night tourism. A PIL in the matter has been filed before the Gujarat high court. "The stay at temple for pilgrims is free. Why will tourists spend money in hotels when they can get to be inside the sanctuary at night as a pilgrim" questioned another activist.


Permission refused for Vijay Rupani’s programme at Kankai


Permission refused for Vijay Rupani's programme at Kankai

The Times Of India


AHMEDABAD: The Gujarat forest department has denied the trust of the Kankai temple — which is located inside Gir National Park — permission to hold a yagna in the sanctuary and erect pandals for a May 6 function that was to be attended by chief minister Vijay Rupani and several BJP ministers.


The office bearers of the trust said that they have informed the chief minister that as they won't be able to set up shamianas for his meeting and do not have permission for a large number of people to enter the sanctuary along with him, he may cancel his visit for darshan at the Kankai temple.


The Gujarat forest department on Thursday evening refused the Kankai temple trust permission to hold the yagna in the sanctuary and erect pandals.


Environmentalists had opposed the ceremony on the ground that it would harm wildlife in the sanctuary. Narendra Jani, vice president of the Kankai temple trust, said, "A meeting was held on Thursday evening and the officials made it clear that the trust cannot be permitted to use sanctuary land for their function. We were to install pandals for the CM's meeting outside the temple premises, but the forest department refused us permission. As we failed to get permission, we called up the chief minister's office and told him to cancel his visit as the department had refused permission for the large gathering that would be there if CM was to visit along with his cabinet ministers."


Chel Joshi, the trust administrator, said, "This is the first time that we have been denied permission. In 2015, we had held a similar programme and were given permission. We have permission to even stay the night inside the sanctuary, but the department is not letting us do so."


A senior forest officer said the department had information that several thousand people were going to be part of the function and officials said that buses with tourists or a large gathering could not be permitted within the sanctuary. "The trust wanted to carry out a yagna in the sanctuary area. This is summer time and a yagna could be dangerous, it would be a disaster waiting to happen," the officer said.


The officer, who asked not to be named, said that senior officials held talks with senior ministers and it was decided that permission to set up shamianas should not be given. The officer said that because of the hue and cry on social media and by NGOs, the CM called off the programme.


The Gujarat high court had issued a notice to the state government and the forest department in response to a PIL objecting to the state government's decision to allow up to 50 pilgrims to stay the night in the Kankai temple, which is inside Gir National Park and sanctuary, the last abode of the Asiatic lion.


A Rajkot-based NGO, Wildlife Conservation Trust, filed the PIL opposing the government circular issued in September 2017, by which permission has been granted to the Kankeshvari Jeernodhar Samiti to have 50 devotees spend nights inside the sanctuary.




The pioneer


That Gir's Asiatic Lion population has been on a steady rise doesn't necessarily mean that the big cat is thriving in its habitat. Experts and biologists tell SHALINI SAKSENA that this predator is facing many challenges  — unnatural deaths, moving out of Gir and translocation


There have been reports that in the last two years, 184 lions have died — 104 lions including 33 cubs died in 2016 and 80 including 38 cubs died in 2017 — out of which 32 deaths were due to unnatural causes. Out of the 184 deaths, 81 deaths have been within the protected area and a majority has been due to natural causes. There are many reasons for these deaths.


Rail and road accidents, lions falling into open wells and deaths due to electrocution — fencing around farmland are some reasons.


On March 5, 2018, Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava told the Gujarat Assembly that the unnatural deaths occur due to road accidents, open wells with no concrete parapets, railway tracks passing through the protected areas and forests, and electric fences securing agricultural land.


"Death of a lion is sad. What we have to see is whether the death is intentional and the reasons. If it is due to poaching, even a death of single lion is worrisome. Around 45-50 per cent of the present lion population is living outside of the protected area. According to the last Census of August 2017, the figure stood at 650. This means that more than 300 big cats are unprotected," says Bhushan Pandya, member of the State Board for Wildlife and a Nature photographer with over three decades of experience.




"If we look at the life cycle of the animal, the prime age is between three to four years to 10 years. The active years are six to seven years. Nature has designed the big cat in such a way that about 70 per cent of the cubs die before they reach prime age. In Africa, the mortality rate is higher. The need of the hour is to set up an effective infrastructure outside of the protected area. This, of course, is a tall order since the lion is spread over an area of 20,000 square km and 1500 villages," Pandya opines.


The speed with which the population is increasing and spreading, there is urgent need to cope with the situation. If one sees the history of these carnivores — lions, tigers and leopards — there is no other country where all these animals have been living in one area. The Gir area has 500 leopards. There is need to come up with new strategies and management practices.


"The reason why the lion has moved away from the protected area is because its prey has moved away. The prey has moved in search of greener pastures and with it, the predator has moved too. As with the predator, the population of the prey has also increased and dispersing outside of the protected area. However, the move has less to do with the dryness of the region.  The lion, in fact, prefers dry deciduous forest unlike the tiger," Pandya explains.


One of the main reasons for the increase in the lion population is that the cat is a prolific breeder. The lioness gives birth after a gestation period of 100-110 days. "Most times, she gives birth to two-three, sometimes even four cubs, at a time. Since they live in a Pride, the chances of their survival go up. If one were to see the Census of the last three years, there were so many cubs. But many died — natural causes including territory takeover by other males results in the cubs being killed," Pandya says.


It is not just territory takeovers that kill cubs. Open wells are a nuisance as well for not just the cubs but adults too. Replying to a question by Congress legislator Gyasuddin Sheikh, Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava admitted recently that wells without parapet walls often became death traps for the lions, which fell into them and drown.


"There are 27 open wells in Amreli district near the sanctuary," Vasava reportedly said, adding that parapet walls would be built around these wells "as soon as possible".


Does this mean that the success India has had in saving the Asiatic Lion has created challenges in the region with human encroachment and the cat moving out of the protected area?


Parimal Nathwani, author of Gir Lion: Pride of Gujarat and group president (Corporate Affairs) Reliance Industries Limited has a different viewpoint and tells you that as such there is no problem — either for the lion or the humans. "Gir lions have been human friendly — they never attack human beings unless disturbed or irritated beyond a point, particularly during mating. People in Gir and the surrounding area have enjoyed co-existence with the lion for generations. The forest areas in Gir and its surrounds have enough prey-base for the lions. Since there's no gun culture in Gujarat, the jungle king is safe from hunting and poaching," Nathwani says, adding that the rise in numbers is a success story for the cat.


"Conservation measures taken during pre-Independence and post-Independence eras culminated in success and survival of the jungle king. From a handful of Asiatic Lions, the number has increased to 523 as per the 2015 Census and the number is estimated around 600 at present," Nathwani says.


His take on the lion moving out of the protected area is a bit different. "The reason for the lions moving out is natural. It moves to form new territory for its Pride. It also moves for mating. The lion needs its own extended territory, so the new pride needs to look for new areas for settling down in area of command. Lions which were confined to only in Gir's forest area near Junagadh have spread to Greater Gir forest areas like Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts. Lions are also found in the foothill forests of Mount Girnar, Dhari, Satadhar, Tulsi Shyam and Pipavav," he tells you.


He believes that the move is good since the lions move in the areas where the food-pattern, colour of the soil, vegetation and overall ambience is similar to Gir. The forests of Saurashtra in Gujarat have been most suitable geographically and climatically to lions," says Nathwani whose book  contains a variety of unique information about Gir lions and some very rare pictures.


It peeps into the history of the lion starting from 65 million years ago and provides details about the currently controversial issue of lion translocation. The book also reveals some of the hitherto unknown characteristics and myriad moods of the majestic animal and their co-existence with the human society in Gir.


But, existence with humans has come at a price. Farmers in villages bordering Gir have dug around 9,000 wells. But these are left open to save money, turning into death traps for lions and other animals in the regions. Lions have also been killed by electric fences that have been built by farmers to keep deer away from their crops. Then there is the looming threat of poaching as well.


Wildlife biologist and lion expert Dr Meena Venkatraman says that while poaching is not an immediate threat at Gir, it is always a potential threat. "Poaching doesn't occur because of the vigilant management, the political will and the support of the local people themselves who take a lot of pride in the lion and ensure its safety. There was one incident of lion death due to poaching back in 2007 but timely steps were taken to curb it. One has to understand that poaching is always a risk for any wildlife," Venkatraman says.


Open-wells meant for irrigation in farmlands, a common sight in any agrarian landscape of the country, are another threat for wild animals moving in these areas at night. Lions and leopards often fall into the wells and are trapped within. These incidents have increased in recent years and the Forest Department takes on the challenging job of rescuing these animals.


"This is a relatively new problem for not just the lion but other wildlife as well, especially at night. One is talking about a very large landscape and can't be a single responsibility of the Forest Department. There is a need for greater participation — locals and NGOs — to work with the department to address the situation. Since this is the only region sustaining this species, there is need to tread carefully," Venkatraman says.


Increased traffic — cars and buses passing through Gir Forest has taken its toll, too. With at least one lion being killed by a vehicle in 2018 and four lions including cubs being run over by trains passing outside of the protected area in 2014 — is a cause of concern.


At night, the rail tracks are a much open area for the animal. They don't understand the danger the track possess. There were talks of putting a speed limit for trains when they pass through the forest and warning system.


"As a biologist, the fencing cuts the landscape but the farmer needs to protect his yield and an electrified fence is an option. Management policies have to carefully plan and ideally be a long-term community engagement," Venkatraman tells you.


One also has to understand that in case of unnatural deaths, due to accidents, of the lion, it is more unintentional.


"There is a lot of acceptance of the lion in the region and it is a great model of people-wildlife co-existence," Venkatraman opines.


"There is need to set up a new division. A letter has already been sent to the Gujarat Government. A number of changes have been recommended including regular patrolling. For now, a lion's live is in God's hands. The poachers are waiting for an opportunity and one can't let that happen," Pandya tells you.


There are several challenges that come in the way of taking up the protection of the lion outside of Gir area. Money, apparently, is not the issue. It is the speed with which the work is being done that is a cause of a worry.


"The areas where lion density is high, one can set up rescue teams with trained wildlife staff which is capable of handling the big cat. The main difference in a conflict situation between the protected area and an unprotected is the time taken for the rescue team to reach the area. In a protected area, time taken is little. The problem is when the team doesn't reach the spot on time and the villagers surround the animal leading to an explosive situation — it stresses the animal and its actions become unpredictable leading to a dangerous situation for the people," Pandya says.


Wildlife activist and Prayatna secretary Ajay Dubey from Bhopal  tells you that while the rise in the number of lions is a success story, there are challenges involved. "First, there is a lot of in-breeding that is taking place due to increase in the number of lions but their habitat has not widened. The increased number of lions has also led to territorial wars in the lions. Many die fighting trying to gain or defend their area. So, some are moving out of the protected area. This has brought the big cat into conflict with humans. The attacks on domesticated cattle give a message loud and clear," Dubey says.


Pandya tells you that setting up rescue teams and a second division will mitigate lion deaths and man-lion conflict. "When a lion attacks the cattle villagers sleep out in the open to protect them. This may lead to lion attacks on people. In such a situation there is need for the villagers to protect themselves. If one is crossing a road that is passing through lion territory, caution is the key to avoid hitting the cat. These are just common precautionary steps that one needs to follow when one is living in a big cat territory," Pandya advises.


'Don't put all eggs in one basket'


A 2013 Supreme Court order directed the Environment Ministry to translocate some Asiatic Lions from the Gir Forest, Gujarat, to the Kuno Palpur wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. But the order has not been implemented so far.


Gir is the last and only bastion The Asiatic Lion (Panthera Leo) is the last bastion of this species in the continent. In May 2015, the Gujarat Government released its latest lion census figures, which said the lion population had grown by around 27 per cent — from 411 in 2010 to 523 in 2015, in 20,000 sq km area spreading over human-dominated habitats, including towns and cities crisscrossed by highways and railway tracks. Second, in the last year-and-a-half, the area has seen over a 100 cubs. The lioness gives birth to one to four cubs and since they live in a Pride, the chances of the cub growing to adulthood is higher for the lion as compared to any other big cat in the wild. Third, this spurt in the lion population in the last decade has led to man-lion conflict. Four, there is fear among the big cat conservationists and biologists that should there be an outbreak of a disease, it could well mean that end of this species as this is the only population in the wild.


"The SC judgment clearly states that translocation is to mitigate the risk and about proactively planning the move. It is like how and why we buy life and medical insurance. To cover the risk in case one falls ill or dies. If something untoward happens to this population, do we have a safety net? Is there a fall-back option? Lions, to begin with, were all over North and Central India — from Punjab to Bihar down to Narmada — all these regions had lions roaming freely. The reason why this cat is now restricted to one State today is due to man — agriculture, urbanisation and guns killing them," Dr Ravi Chellam, a wildlife biologist and  conservation scientist who has been studying the ecology and behaviour of the Gir lions with the specific objective of implementing the translocation says.


Experts opine that one can't approach the animals with a Noah's Arc approach — one can't take a male and female and expect them to create a wild population. When conservationists talk about conservation, it is about persistence of the animal populations and not about the fate of an individual animal.


"Death is the only guarantee in life. At some point in time, depending on the lifespan of the animal, they will die. Here you have a single population — keeping all your eggs in one basket — and if something happens to it, how will we be able to conserve the sub-species? If one proactively creates a second, third and even a fourth population, the chances of extinct are lesser. Even if there is a threat of disease or a climactic calamity, since these populations will be separated from each other by several hundred or even thousand-odd km, the chances that the sub-species will survive are more," Chellam explains.


Interestingly, talk of translocation of Asiatic lion began much before what happened in Serengeti (In 1994, the lion population was decimated by a canine distemper disease outbreak) in Africa. An attempt in India to translocate was done in the late 50s and early 1960s based on the knowledge available back then. It was succeeded over the short-term but ultimately failed. To begin with three lions — one male and two female wild-caught Asiatic lions — were translocated to Chandra Prabha Wildlife Sanctuary, covering 96 square km in eastern Uttar Pradesh, where climate, terrain and vegetation was similar to the conditions in the Gir Forest.


"This figure increased to 11 but unfortunately they disappeared, presumably shot. But it was more due to the limitations of the knowledge base and the system in place back then. But doing the same in 80s or even 1990s, there is so much more expertise and one is more involved, the chance of success is higher. Countries like South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Zimbabwe have proved that capture of large mammals can be done easily and with little discomfort to the animal. They have also proved that translocation and revival of wildlife population can be done. When I began my research in the 80s, this was the main focus - what do we need to understand about the lions for the translocation to succeed. As luck would have it by the time I submitted my report, the Serengeti problem also happened," Chellam says.


When it comes down to actual translocation, there are several reasons for resistance. "We think that humans are rational beings and that they are intelligent and think long-term. We are supposed to be broad-minded and generous. But anything and everything can be reduced to parochial and selfish outlook. Therefore, you had resistance of translocation of the one-horned rhino from Assam to Dudhwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh. In the similar manner, the Gujarat Government says it is Gujarati lion. But in a globilised world, what is more important? Is it the long-term survival of the species or our selfish goals? Chellam asks.


The challenge that the lion is facing today — like any large and dangerous cat — is its interaction with people which is an explosive combination. There are attacks, injuries, killing of livestock and people. Also, 50 per cent of the present lion population is outside of the protected area. Here, one can't control human activity — in their fields and homes and roads - nor can one control the movement of the cat. There have been reports that in the last two years, 184 lions have died out of which 32 have died due to unnatural causes.


"Lions are born and lions will die. It is not about individual deaths; numbers are not so important but the fact that some cats have died due to human activities is worrisome." Chellam tells you.


Of course, there is no guarantee that a disease will not break-out in Kuno. "There is need to look at the situation objectively; not from Gujarat perspective or India perspective but from purely Asiatic lion's perspective and what is good for it. Even if we lose a few cats, God forbid, during translocation, it is okay. Anyway, 32 lions have died due to unnatural causes. Death of any wild animal however tragic it might be doesn't affect the long-term survival of the population. Conservation is the name of the game and is always long-term. It means protecting the habitat and ensuring connectivity," Chellam tells you.



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