The population of Asiatic lions is steadily increasing in the Gir sanctuary of Gujarat and is expected to go upto more than 500 in the next 15 years, say forest officials.
State government officials say the population of lions as per 2005 census was 359 but with high birth and low mortality rate the population of lions is likely to increase drastically, which has prompted the forest department to identify new areas exclusively for the wild beast in the state. In 2001, the population of lions stood at 336.
The exercise of identifying new areas comes in the wake of National Board of Wildlife headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh taking up the issue of translocation of lions to a sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.
"Around 25 to 30 lions die natural death every year in the Gir sanctuary. However, against it 50 lion cubs are born every year and that is why state forest and wildlife department expect their population to go above 500 in the next 10 to 15 years", officials pointed out.
Chief conservator of forests Pradeep Khanna says the Greater Gir project of the state government to identify new areas and make them an exclusive reserve for lions in the state will be able to give proper accommodation to lions in the state itself.
At present, the Gujarat government is in the final stage of reserving 110 sq km of additional area for the lions, Junagadh conservator of forests Bharat Pathak said.
Pathak, under whose jurisdiction the Gir wildlife sanctuary falls, says the area falls in Savarkundka taluka of Amreli district and Mahua taluka of Bhavnagar districts and is very near to Gir.
"The areas is mainly forest and wasteland and the final survey of the area is going on. Lions straying out of the Gir sanctuary will find a safe abode in the new habitats," he adds.
Three years ago, the state government had declared 18.22 sq km area of Mityana in Amreli district as a sanctuary for lions. Before that, 35 sq km area of Punia was declared as a wildlife sanctuary. This area is in addition to 1412.13 sq km of Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park.
He says the forest department is in the process of identifying new areas, which can be declared as sanctuaries for the increasing population of lions.
Officials said around 100 to 125 lions are living outside the protected areas like Girnar mountain and surrounding areas, Sutrapada, Kodinar, coastal areas of Una, Jesar and Ambaliya village in Bhavnagar district and Bagodara.
They said the state government will try to create facilities for lions in all this areas. The local population of maldharis in these areas will be taken into confidence for creating facilities for lions, officials said.
Pathak said they have identified an area called Bardo Dungar in Porbandar district for the relocation of lions in that district. A proposal will soon be sent to the state environment department to reserve that region exclusively for lions, he added.
The National Board of Wildlife meeting held on June 19 and chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had discussed the issue of translocation of lions to a sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.
The move was opposed by wildlife activists GA Patel. In the board meeting it was decided to build political consensus for translocation of lions.
The state government's known stand is that lion relocation programme had not been properly conceived.