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In Gir, too many lions, too little space

india Updated: Nov 16, 2008 00:37 IST
Rathin Das
Rathin Das
Hindustan Times
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Earlier this month, two lions were captured in Gondal, 100 km north of India’s only refuge for the Asiatic lion.

It’s only the latest indication that the lions of Gir National Park are becoming victims of a conservation success.

This decade, lions have preyed on domestic cattle, fallen into village wells, been electrocuted by fences, even seen on Gujarat’s beaches.

The last official census in 2005 revealed 359 lions where there were 180 three decades ago in Gir, set up in 1974 as the Indian lion’s home.

Only, no one told the lions.

“They don’t know where reserve forest limits end and villages begin,” noted I. K. Chauhan, deputy conservator of forests. “They go wherever they see thick vegetation.”

Gir, spread over a core area of 258.7 square km in Gujarat’s Junagadh district, can accommodate upto 300 lions. That’s not enough now.

The solution: Expand the core area — no humans allowed here — or move some lions.

Expanding the core will displace tribals, and that’s politically impossible. As for finding a new home, the Gujarat government refuses to share its lions.

Madhya Pradesh has been trying to lay its hand on a few of Gir’s surplus lions for more than a decade, hoping to move them to a forest near Gwalior, to its Kunopalpur forest reserve.

Gujarat didn’t actually refuse to move lions: It simply did not.

The MP government has since approached the Supreme Court, but Gujarat refuses.

“Why should we give up our lions?” a senior politician argued, requesting anonymity.

Wildlife experts cite another reason. “Lions and tigers can’t stay in the same forest,” said S.K. Nanda, state environment and forest secretary. “There are tigers at Kunopalpur. We won’t sacrifice our lions.”