India: Lions regaining lost territory, getting closer to city

Avatar BCR | October 28, 2008 0 Likes 0 Ratings

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28 Oct 2008, 0326 hrs IST, Himanshu Kaushik, TNN
AHMEDABAD : Roar of the Asiatic lion is no longer heard only at Sasan Gir. The majestic beast is now pacing leisurely in Porbander,  Mahuva and Talaja in Bhavnagar,  Diu, Rajula, Kodinar and Gondal. It seems to be inching closer to Ahmedabad, and, this phenomenon is only going to increase, say experts.  
History books and government records reveal there were lions in these areas in the early 1900s. Former chief conservator of forests, GA Patel, says: “Whats happening is not surprising. Lions are just regaining old territory lost to human habitation.”
In the past, lions were found in entire Saurashtra, not only Junagadh and part of Amreli. With human population increasing, area available for them shrunk and they were forced to move out, he explains.  
In 1936 census, lion population was cited as over 300. It dropped to around 260 and the pride of Gujarat was confined to Sasan and nearby areas. Says conservator of forests, Bharat Pathak, “A major reason for this was forests being cleared for cultivation.” Another official says movement of lions in their natural corridor was hindered not just by farming, but also because in pre-independence era nawabs used to permit hunting forcing the beasts to stay confined to one area.
“Lions were present in Gondal and Jetpur in the past and are going back to those areas,” confirms HS Singh, chief conservator of forests, research.  
Lion population has risen to 359. The 2005 census showed that over 55 lions had moved out of the protected area. But, the figure is higher. A senior officer says there are only 240-odd lions in Gir and the remaining are out of the sanctuary.
“Lions need open territory, thats why theyre moving out. Though they sometimes come into conflict with locals, within the radius of five km from Gir Sanctuary, they are accepted by people and are not feared,” says former principal chief conservator of forests, Sanat Chauhan. Lions need savana grass, but Gir is fast turning out to be a dense forest becoming inhospitable for the big cats. An officer from Gir west says, “Lions love an easy catch. But, its tough for them to chase prey in forests. They are forced to move into nearby villages.” Also, as Maldharis have moved out, prey base has fallen.  
Revtubha Raijada, former member of State Wildlife Board, says an adult lion with his pride needs over 40 sq km area and number of adult lions has risen. Gir is proving too small for them. “In the last couple of censuses, it has been noticed that population at Gir has remained stagnant at around 280. The rest of the lions are moving in the open,” he says.
Barda Dungar, Jesar new homes
Fear that lions will be moved out of Gujarat is motivating state government to take quick action for relocation. It has realised how important it is to increase  protected sanctuary area.
Alternative homes at Barda Dungar in Jamnagar and Jesar are being developed and attempts are being made to increase prey base there. In fact, Barda Dungar has been notified as a sanctuary and lions will be shifted there in next couple of years. Forest department has already prepared a Greater Gir Project. It has declared Girnar and Mityala as sanctuaries. Officials say several areas should also be declared as conservation reserves. Here, the department will improve human habitat as well as  protect lions.  
Jesar is also a natural corridor for lions heading out of Gir. Officials say it is being suggested as an another home for lions because of Shretunji river flowing by and a dam in the vicinity. 
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