Lion — Pride of India on verge of extinction

According to the State Forest department, 2015 data showed that there were 523 lions in Gir forest, and the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared that these species were threatened and were restricted to India’s Gir Forest.

Earlier this year, on March 2018, the Gujarat Assembly, after being informed by State Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava, announced that 32 Asiatic Lions died due to “unnatural causes” in and around Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, over the last two years. These unnatural causes included falling into the well and being hit or run over by train (THE BLUE MOON had warned about this danger in May 2011). A total of 184 Asiatic lions died in 2016 -17, wherein  104 deaths occurred in 2016 and 80 deaths in 2017.

So according to official figures the numbers must have fallen down to 339 left behind in 2017.  To add to this, in the past two months, 27 lions died in and around Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, and most of them had been infected by canine distemper virus (CDV), as reported by a section of the media. After the death, the Lions’ blood samples were sent to Pune’s National Institute of Virology. The virus was found in four cases. However, traces of Protozoans which are usually spread by ticks were found in six other samples. Majority of the lions, however, reportedly died of CVD, which is so deadly that it killed nearly 1,000 lions in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park in 1994.

THE BLUE MOON has been crying hoarse about the apathy of the State government and the Forest Department since May 2011 warning of a pending disaster. The voice of the Blue Moon was muffled and all reports were brushed under the carpet. Nobody bothered about the reports put forth by THE BLUE MOON with pictures some of which are being reproduced in this issue once again.

THE BLUE MOON had strongly highlighted the case of the lions for translocation to a sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh in 2011 too. The story goes much beyond this.

Despite orders by the Supreme Court, Gujarat was reluctant to translocate lions outside the State. They called it the pride of Gujarat as if they are not a part of India and, therefore, the pride of India.

It was in 1993 when the Centre asked WII to find a habitat to relocate lions outside Gir. Shortly thereafter in 1994 Canine Virus Distemper (CVD) killed 1000 lions in Serengeti, Tanzania. In January 1995 WII recommended Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.

In 2004 Centre formed a monitoring committee to translocate lions and sent Gujarat a letter to translocate lions. The Biodiversity Conservation Trust of India petitions Supreme Court seeking lion translocation. However, in 2007 Gujarat rejected translocation project.

The Court then sent the matter to National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) which in 2008 recommended translocation of lions. But Gujarat remained adamant and challenged the recommendation made by NBWL in SC.

After the Court asked NBWL to reconsider, the NBWL technical committee decided to translocate lions. But Gujarat found fault with Kuno saying that it lacked prey base and the issue had not been placed before Gujarat State Board for Wildlife (GSBWL). As was expected GSBWL rejected translocation.

This time in  April 2013  the apex court ordered to undertake translocation in six months and form a committee to oversee the process.

In March this year the Supreme Court assured the Centre that the expert committee will meet and send the minutes to the court within four weeks.  However, the reported four weeks passed by and in September 23 lions died in Dalkhania range and not only this the presence of CVD was reportedly confirmed in 21 lions.

For the conservation of Asiatic lions, the Gujarat government has announced a package of Rs 351-crore, which includes several new initiatives. The initiatives include building a state-of-the-art veterinary hospital in Sasan-Gir and creating a team of 120 veterinary doctors to treat lions and other wildlife.

“Elaborate discussion was held at the SBWL meeting on the recent deaths of lions by CDV after which an in-principle decision was taken to sanction Rs 351 crore for various lion conservation measures in the next five years,” Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava has said.One building of a modern hospital for lions at Rs 100 crore is one of the major decisions and that the hospital will be equipped with modern facilities to deal with every situation. A cadre of 120 expert veterinary doctors will also be formed. A laboratory will be built for conducting tests on animals to find out causes of infections.

Drones will be deployed to keep an eye on lions’ movements, Rs 80 crore will be spent on building as many as eight new rescue centres, 33 Rapid Response Teams will be deployed in the forest and 100 ‘trackers’ will be recruited to keep a watch over the lions, Vasava added. They have decided to increase the remuneration of lion trackers.

But will the rail track be moved out of the sanctuary. The Railways finds it hard to undertake this project. The loco will still continue to disturb the peace of the animals as it has been doing for years.

Is anybody worried about the dwindling numbers of the Pride of India?

……..By Amit Mittal……….

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