Surprise floods in parts of Gujarat this week have killed at least seven Asiatic lions and more than a dozen big cats remain missing in Amreli, Bhavnagar and Gir districts, officials said on Saturday.
As the flood waters receded in the affected areas, forest department officials found the carcases of seven lions, including that of a three-month-old cub.
DC Pant, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), told Hindustan Times that forest officials and guards have fanned out across the affected areas but many places are still unreachable because roads have been washed away or have become too muddy.
Amid fears that the toll of lions could rise, local residents said nine lions had been killed in the floods and around a dozen were still missing, which means more deaths could not be ruled out.
“Three lions were washed away in (the) swelling waters (of) Shetrunji on Wednesday,” said a local resident from Palitana.
Asiatic lions inhabit Gir’s approximately 22,000 square km expanse, spread over eight districts in the Saurashtra region, though they roared and roamed in much of north India until 1880. But they got cooped in a small area as the princely indulgence for game hunting during and before the British rule as well as environmental changes decimated hundreds of prides.
In the last census in May this year, Gujarat had counted a total of 523 lions.
“We have registered a robust growth in our lion population … from 411 in 2010 to 523 now, which means a growth of 27%,” chief minister Anandiben Patel had said, releasing the figures at Gir in Junagadh district.
Of these, 258 were in Junagadh district, 44 in Somnath, 174 in Amreli and 47 in Bhavnagar. The highest growth rate was seen in Amreli district, which has been the worst hit in the recent floods.
Besides lions, the floods have also killed hundreds of other wild animals like blue bulls and spotted deer.
A forest official said about 100 carcasses of blue bulls had been found in the flooded areas.