Lioness, cub die; death toll rises to 13
With the death of two more lions, the toll of big cats in the forest range of Dalkhaniya, Gir East, rose to 13 on Monday. A lioness and a lion cub, who were found ill, died during treatment on Monday.
Meanwhile, the forest department has set up as many as 64 teams to scan the vast Gir forests to identify sick and weak lions and immediately shift them to rescue centres in view of the recent deaths of big cats in the region. Simultaneously, a central government team of wildlife experts has also flown in to Gujarat to find out the reasons for the sudden deaths in a short span.
The lioness was around 4 years old while the cub was just six months old. The foresters had found both of them while searching for carcasses in the 8,000 hectare area of Dalkhaniya range in Dhari. "The lion cub was found on Sunday and was taken to Jasadhar rescue centre where it died during treatment on Monday. The lioness had been ill when a tracking chip was inserted in her body. She was under treatment at the forest department facility and died on Monday morning," clarified a statement issued by the forest department. The forest department tags the animals with microchips whenever they are rescued to keep a tab on them through the GPS system.
.The post-mortem report on the two animals are awaited. Eleven Asiatic lions were found dead in 10 days in Dalkhaniya and Jasadhar range in the heart of the Gir lion sanctuary in a decomposed state. It took time for a team of forest officials, who rushed to the spot on Thursday, to even identify their gender. This prompted the state government to order an inquiry.
On Friday, the forest department claimed that the lions died due to infighting and liver problems, and not foul play. A team comprising top officials and experts from the National Tiger Conservation Authority and Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India, probing the death since arriving here on Saturday, also stated in its preliminary report that deaths were due to infighting, and infection caused by resultant injuries.
Additional Chief Secretary for Environment and Forests Rajiv Gupta said viscera samples of dead animals have been sent to Pune-based National Institute of Virology. Once the institute's report arrived, further course of action would be decided, he said, confirming that 64 teams comprising more than 270 personnel had been deployed in the forests.
"After analysing the reports from NIV, we will devise a long-term strategy to save lions" he said, adding the Central team had concluded that the deaths were not due to "unnatural" causes, such as intentional poisoning by humans.
He informed reporters that NTCA-WII team would remain in the state for a few more days to thoroughly probe the case.
Gupta said 64 teams, having 270 personnel, had been formed to screen lions in Gir forest. "Each team has a forester, two beat guards and one tracker. Veterinary doctors will assist these teams in identifying and rescuing sick lions and treat them at our rescue centres. We have also planned to vaccinate cattle near Gir area" the additional chief secretary (forest) said.
He said these teams would work under the supervision of Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF), Wildlife, Akshay Saxena.
The state government had on Friday claimed 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, were awaited, the forest department had said on Friday. The population of lions was 523 according to population estimation that took place in 2015.
Now it is believed to have reached 600. However, forest department also confirmed that 100 to 105 deaths are recorded every year and the average goes up during three months of monsoon. Every year about 32 lions dies during three months of monsoon, this year as well only 31 have died so far confirms figures shared by forest department.