Lions captured from Gir following children’s death last year, released back
Four children, aged 7-14 years, were killed by lions in a separate incident near Gir sanctuary in September and November last year
Thirteen of the 23 lions captured from the Gir lion landscape after four children were killed last year in a ‘rare’ human-lion conflict were released back by the forest department to the habitat, officials said.
Of the remaining nine lions, five were sent to Sakkarbaug Zoo in Junagadh, where they will remain in captivity for life, said a forest department official.
Officials said that they captured 23 lions from the outskirts of Gir sanctuary and national park as forensics was not able to pin out the lion responsible for killing. Four children, aged 7-14 years, were killed by lions in separate incidents near Gir sanctuary in September and November last year.
The first of the three incidents took place in September last year when a 14-year-old child was killed and footprints pointed to a lioness in the Greater Gir area. The other two children, aged below 10 years, were killed in November.
In the fourth case, which took place at a completely different location, the male and female lion responsible for the death of a 15-year-old child, were identified and put in captivity.
“After the incident, the forest department, as per protocol sent five lions, including one lioness, two sub-adults and two cubs to Sakkarbaug zoo. We are investigating the lion responsible behind the second and third deaths,” said Aradhana Sahu, chief conservator of forests, Junagadh.
“We have released many of the lions. We will soon move more of them to the wild after completing our investigation,” said Nityanand Shrivastava, Gujarat’s principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife) and state’s chief wildlife warden.
The Gujarat forest department data shows that the sudden cases of lions killing people around Gir were highest as compared to previous years.
As per the data, in 2019-20, two human killings by lions were reported, in 2020-21 it was one and in 2021-22 two. In the financial year 2022-23, four deaths have been reported so far in a small area of 10 sq km.
Project lion: A second home
Gujarat’s Barda Wildlife Sanctuary, about 100 km from Gir National Park, has been identified as a potential second home for Asiatic lions for many years now but the efforts to relocate them were not very successful.
The central government has prepared “Lion @ 47: Vision for Amrutkal” for lion conservation as a part of ‘Project Lion’ for the conservation of Asiatic Lions in Gir, Gujarat.
Minister of state for environment Ashwini Kumar Choubey said the objective of the project was to scale up livelihood generation and participation of local communities and become a global hub of knowledge on big cat disease diagnostics and treatment.
“Project Lion envisages landscape ecology-based conservation of the Asiatic lion in Gujarat by integrating conservation and eco-development,” the minister said.
As per the latest census carried out in 2020, there are 674 lions in the state, a 29% increase in the population compared to the 2015 census of 523.
Of these, about 300-325 reside in the Gir sanctuary spread over 1,412 square km, according to experts. The sanctuary includes 258 sq km of Gir National Park. The population of Asiatic Lions has more or less stabilized in the sanctuary and a greater number of lions are seen outside the sanctuary, experts say.
According to Dr Jalpan Rupapara, a lion expert doing research study in the Gir landscape, the behaviour of lions has not changed much in past many years.
“The rise in the number of conflicts is due rise in lion population. If the lion population doubles, then the incidents of conflicts will also rise accordingly,” said Rupapara.
“Prompt identification of a ‘problematic’ animal and its early capture is the most important step to reducing man-animal conflicts,” he said.
He called the series of deaths in the lion landscape rare.
“When there is a series of deaths of young children by lions, all suspicious lions responsible for human deaths should be kept captive to avoid further human deaths and further conflicts. I don’t recall a single incident of Asiatic lions in the past where a lion is suspected to be behind the killing of three children in such a short interval,” according to Rupapara.
As many as 30 lions were captured from the wild and put behind bars in 2018 for the rest of their lives when the first round of Canine Distemper Virus took a toll of about 29 lions in less than one month in the same year.
Abhisst Thakker, a lawyer and a wildlife conservation expert said that on the lines of standard operating procedure (SOP) for the National Tiger Conservation Authority, there should be proper guidelines for the capture of lions.
“There is no proper SOP from the wild. The rising number of lions outside the sanctuary area will make it difficult to monitor the movement of the big cats. The number of lions inside the sanctuary is significantly much lower than the carrying capacity. A large number of lions are found on the borders and the forest department should make efforts to increase the lion population in the protected areas,” said Thakker.
“Lions are moving out of the sanctuary area and venturing into revenue areas and the government needs to make efforts for creating a suitable habitat for them in these areas as well. There is fear among villagers due to the recent incident but there have been attacks on humans by leopards too, so people are learning to live amid these lurking dangers. Illegal mining has depleted ground waters posing serious challenges to the wildlife here, including lions,” said Vipul Barvadiya, a farmer in Thordi village in Amreli district where one of the recent human deaths by lion took place.
“When you arrest about twenty lions for the death caused by one of them, it disturbs the entire pride and causes imbalance in their habitat,” he added.
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