Three lions will spend the rest of their lives in captivity after authorities found them “guilty” of killing three people last month at Gujarat’s Gir National Park amid mounting concerns over rising man-animal conflict across India.
Officials analysed the pug marks and faeces of 17 lions during a 25-day captivity and found human remains from the excreta of an adult lion and two lionesses.
“It brought us to the conclusion that the male lion attacked, killed and ate humans while two other sub-adults only ate some leftover body parts. These sub-adults were not involved in attacking and killing humans,” said AP Singh, chief conservator of forest for Junagadh division.
The male lion will be kept in a cage at Sakkarbaug zoo on the outskirts of Junagadh and the two lionesses will be kept locked a forest department rescue centre.
The precautions are necessary because once an animal turns a “man-eater”, they are prone to prey on human as the hunt is often easier, officials said. The other 14 lions will be released into the national park.
The forest department drive began after three people --- a 14-year-old boy, a woman aged around 50 and a 61-year-old man --- were mauled to death by the felines in April and May.
This marked first time in decades that lions had attacked the local population in India’s only reserve for the big cat. Villagers used to consider them divine and felt honoured if the lions paid them a “visit.
But after the attacks, around 100 farmers from Kodiya village submitted a memorandum to local officials, requesting the administration capture and relocate three prides – nearly 30 lions – that have made this area their hunting grounds.
They received support from the political class, including members of the ruling BJP, who suggested that residents be allowed to carry firearms for “emergencies”.
The park has 523 lions, according to last year’s census, but rising numbers has meant almost half of that number lives outside the 1,412 square-km sanctuary.
Wildlife experts say one of the main reasons for lions straying out of the sanctuary is shortage of prey on account of illegal mining and thinning of forest cover. “Lions attacked us while we were plucking lemons from our orchards,” said Lakha Vala, a farmer.
In 2013, the Supreme Court ordered Gujarat to relocate some lions to other states to prevent the population from being hit all at once by a natural disaster or disease. But Gujarat has resisted moving any of the lions, saying it does not trust other states to protect the big cats.