Asiatic lion in dire straits
Rampant poaching is driving the Asiatic lion close to extinction with only about 300 of them left in the western Indian state of Gujarat, the big cats’ last wild refuge, media reported on Wednesday.
Lions in the Gir forest in Gujarat are being poached for their pelts and claws, both of which command a huge price in the illegal wildlife trade, the CNN-IBN TV news channel said. The last lion census conducted in the Gir forests in 2000 put the number of Asiatic lions at 320.
However, the animals’ numbers are quickly dwindling due to poaching, open wells that act as death traps and human encroachment on the lion’s habitat, the report said. Between August and December 2005, at least 12 lions had died at Gir, the channel reported quoting forest department officials.
Of these, the carcasses of four lions were found in the forest with their claws removed, an indication that poachers had killed the beasts for the parts, the report said. Forest officials were not immediately available for comment.
To curb the spread of human habitation in the dense Gir forests, the government in 1972 declared the Gir National Park a protected sanctuary for the Asiatic lion. Despite this, the 1,150-square-kilometer sanctuary is home to at least 4,000 people and is crisscrossed by a railway track and five highways.
Human encroachment into the jungle reserve is on the increase as well.
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