AHMEDABAD: Once considered harmless, Asiatic lions are attacking people living in the periphery of the Gir National Park – India’s only reserve for the big cats. Consequently, 18 of the beasts have been taken into captivity, and locals have sought the government’s permission to kill them in self-defence.
This is yet another instance of rising animal-human conflicts in the country, something that the Centre has tried to resolve by branding wild beasts as vermin and allowing local residents to kill them. Taking cognisance of three such attacks that occurred over the last two months, forest officials are now capturing lions from the wild and housing them at the Jasadhar Animal Care Centre.
Until a few months ago, lion attacks were considered a rare occurrence in this area. In fact, villagers would feel honoured if the majestic beasts paid them a“visit ”. Prime Minister Mo di described them as the “pride of Gujarat”, and even turned down a proposal to relocate the animals to Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh.
All that has now changed.
Farmers from Kodiya village have submitted a memorandum to officials, requesting them to relocate nearly 30 lions that have made this area their hunting grounds. They have received support from politicians, who have suggested that residents be allowed to carry firearms for “emergencies”. According to the Wildlife Protection Act, an endangered animal such as the lion can be killed only by a professional hunter–and that too after it has been declared a man-eater. On the other hand, the under-staffed forest department has been struggling to control the spread of lions.
Wildlife experts say one of the main reasons for lions straying out of the sanctuary is shortage of prey because of thinning of forest cover. Bhikha Jethva, president of Lions Nature Club, has rejected calls by those favouring the culling of lions – including local BJP leader Dileep Sanghani. “Giving guns to locals is no solution. That way lions will no longer be safe in Gujarat or anywhere else in India,” he said.