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2000.................................................................................................

Gir lions die in 2 months
 

Times of India, July 24th 2000

AHMEDABAD: Five Asiatic lions have died in less than two months in the Gir forest reserve. The state forest department, while explaining the reasons for the abnormally high number, has attributed two deaths to 'natural' causes, one to electrocution and one to 'abnormal behavior'.

The cause of the latest death -- a two-year-old male died at Khambha village in Visavadar taluka on Saturday -- is yet to be ascertained. Samples, including viscera and liver, were sent to the forensic science laboratory at Junagadh and to the Veterinary College, Anand, after post-mortem. Though the death of this lion has been put down to 'natural' causes, a forest official believed that the death of this lion cannot be termed so.

The death of one lion near Nanudi village in Khambha taluka of Amreli district last week has been attributed to "abnormal behaviour". It was reported that "a uncoordinated limb function and movement" preceded the death. Although similar claims have been made about the previous two deaths, which includes one female, they have been refuted by officials.

As reports are awaited, forest officials are keeping quiet about the possible causes of death. If required, the samples will be sent for further investigations to the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology at Hyderabad.

When asked about the possibility of rabies taking the toll, deputy conservator of forest Gir (west) Mahesh Singh ruled it out. "Rabies is a disease generally seen in canines and not felines. Lions are from the cat family. Besides, there are no wild dogs inside the forest," he said.

A wildlife expert opined that similar symptoms are seen when lions suffer from meningitis. Local staffers of the Gir (east) range, where the death occurred, confirmed that a thorough beat-wise checking of lion behaviour was carried out to find other cases, but all seemed to be normal. They stressed that cattle going inside the forest area is vaccinated and hence there are not many chances of the lions contracting diseases from them.

As per the latest estimates there are 330 lions in Gir, 24 up from the 306 counted in the last lion census in 1996. The 2000 census which was scheduled in May, was discontinued after rains.

Gir is the abode of not only lions but nearly 300 leopards, about 50,000 peafowls, 35,000 spotted deer, 3,000 sambars, 2,500 blue-bulls, 2,000 chinkaras and a small population of four-horned antelopes. Wildlife experts have been stressing over the need to shift a few lions elsewhere to improve the quality of their gene pool and save them in case of a possible disease outbreak. However lack of political will has seen the lions confined to Gir.

Meanwhile, Veraval first class executive magistrate turned down the bail application and sent on remand Pyar Ali Kasambhai and two others of Bhhalchhel village (near Sasan) in Talala taluka, after a lion was electrocuted by the fence around his field. Pyar Ali had connected electric wires to his fencing, to protect crop from cattle, a common practice in the Gir villages to save crops.

   
 
Mystery illness in Gir, 3 lions die in 2 weeks
 

Indian Express, July 23rd 2000

RAJKOT, JULY 23: A mysterious infection is killing lions in the Gir sanctuary -- home of the last surviving species of the Asiatic Lion. Three big cats have died in the past 15 days, raising fears of a fatal infection spreading in the protected area. Worse, the infection has not been identified yet. All three post-mortem reports mention unidentified causes, without quoting the exact cause and possible source.

The first lion had died in Khamba in Dhari range about 15 days ago. The Forest Department had initially tried to pass it off as a death due to rabies which is extremely rare among big cats, and impossible in the Gir where there are no wild dogs. Another lion died of similar symptoms about 10 days ago in Dhari. On Saturday, a sub-adult male died under similar circumstances in Kamba village in Visavadar.

The Forest Department, however, refuses to link these three deaths although they occurred within a 100-km range. Sasan-Gir Wild Life Deputy Conservator of Forest B.P. Pati is unsure what caused the deaths. "The post-mortem report from Anand gave a negative report on rabies but the cause has not been identified. The other two lions have also died of unknown reasons. It could be due brain haemorrage after being hit by a vehicle because blood had oozed out from the lion that died on Saturday,'' he told The Indian Express.

While viscera reports of the lions are still awaited, some forest officers are trying to pass them off as natural deaths. "It is possible they got separated from their prides, could not hunt, and died of hunger," said one officer.

Wildlife Conservator Kuldeep Goyal says there is nothing to be alarmed about and there is no infection. ``There is no evidence that the lions have died of any infection. They may have died of natural causes, snake bites... anything but not an infection,'' Goyal said.

However, the Department's actions suggest what they are saying is far from the truth. Animal husbandry teams, summoned urgently, have spread into the 'nessess', or human settlements of the Maldharis, inside the Gir to investigate if domestic livestock have caught any infection, preying on which might spread the infection in the lions. A large number of cattle which foray into the forest have been vaccinated against infections. Half-eaten carcasses are being cleared away and the place disinfected so that lions don't eat them.

   
 
Gir lions to be shifted to adjoining forest
 

Times of India, July 19th 2000

AHMEDABAD: The lions at the Gir National Park and Sanctuary will soon be rid of their cramped existence, with a second home planned for them in the adjoining Barda forest range.
The state forest department, jolted by the death of 12 tigers at Orissa's Nandankanan zoo, is working out a plan to shift some of the 300-odd Girl lions.

The move is also aimed at scuttling a project initiated by the Wild Life Institute of India, Dehradun, to transfer some of the lions to the Palpur Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. The institute had worked out the plan five years ago to insulate lions against outbreak of an epidemic, enemy attack or a natural calamity which, it was feared, could wipe out their entire population. The state government had, however, opposed relocation of the lions in Madhya Pradesh claiming they were an exclusive heritage of the state.

The controversy had assumed political dimensions with Gujarat equating the proposed transfer of lions to the adamant stand taken by the neighbouring state on the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP). Locals of the area had also protested gainst the move.

The sanctuary and national park, spread over 1882 sq km, has been plagued by the burgeoning population of lions coupled with a human population explosion.

The Nandankanan incident jolted the forest department into action and it is now trying to speed up the project to shift some of lions to Barda.

A proposal for developing a second habitat for the Asiatic lion had been considered in the early 90s by the Centre, which feared that concentration of lions in one place could endanger their lives.

The sanctuary at Kuno in north MP was found to have a habitat similar to that of the Gir forest and a Rs 10-crore project was sanctioned to develop it as a second lion retreat. The lions are to be relocated in 2001 under the project.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh is taking a personal interest in the project, telling the Times of India recently: "It is wrong to equate the lions with Narmada. I have been to Gir and I know that there is a population problem there."

Gujarat forest officials, however, say the population of lions has been growing steadily and they are now spreading out to new areas like Kodinar, Girnar and Barda.

The officials argue it won't be advisable to send lions to a new environment and say a similar experiment in the 1950s to send lions to the Chandraprabha Park in Uttar Pradesh had failed, with the animals dying.

"There is a mutual trust between man and lions in Gujarat which does not exist anywhere else," said a senior official.

The forest department claims the lions are finding the Barda habitat suitable and have made their home there. "It has to be a natural spread, not an artificial one," an official explains.

   
 
Govt chalks out plans to revive lake sanctuary
 

Times of India, July 4th 2000

AHMEDABAD: The state forest department appears to have woken up to the pressing need of preserving its natural treasure. It has taken some significant decisions to improve tourist facilities as well as the habitat for birds in the Nalsarovar lake sanctuary, 45 km from here.
The department has built a canal -- 6 meters wide and 1 km long – right from the entry point of the lake, where boats will ferry tourists around. Besides, a 4.5 km long earthen wall has been built, blocking the water outlet from the lake. The wall will raise the level of the lake by about four to five meters, conservator of forest T R M Prasad said.

A decision to facilitate de-congestion of the tourist spot where all the boats used to be concentrated has also been taken, informs Prasad. The wall would help retain water round the year in the shallow lake, spread over 120 sq. km.

The lake is a low-lying area between the plains of central Gujarat and eastern Saurashtra. It was declared as a bird sanctuary in 1969, including its wetlands. Harbouring more than 250 species of birds, Nalsarovar is one of the largest wetland bird sanctuaries in Gujarat. Forest department officials feel it has the potential to match the country's best water bird sanctuaries.
There are 360 odd islets in the lake and most of them lie exposed when the water level is low, like it is at present. The lake gets filled with water that drains from adjoining Surendranagar and Ahmedabad districts in the monsoon. With this fresh water inflow, concentration of brackish content in the lake will be reduced considerably.

Among the migratory birds that home in to the lake are flocks of pelicans, flamingos, ducks, demoiselle cranes, common cranes and several waders.

   
 
No buffalo baits during lion census
 

Times of India, June 6th 2000

AHMEDABAD: On the eve of lion census in the Gir National Park and surrounding areas, the state government announced on Tuesday that it would not be using buffaloes as bait for the lion count.

A government spokesman said the decision had been taken following a public interest litigation filed in the high court and also opposition from Union minister for social welfare Maneka Gandhi, who has advocated the use of other methods for the census.

The use of baits had evoked an outcry from animal lovers, including the Union minister and Animal Welfare Board of India chairman Justice G.M. Lodha.

Nearly 2,000 personnel, including forest officials, NGOs and resource persons, have been entrusted with the task of carrying out the census, last carried out in 1995, when the lion population stood at 304. Forest department sources said they expected the count to touch 320 this year.

The first phase, known as the waterhole census, will last two days and will involve keeping a watch over 470 waterholes. After a day's rest, the ``bait census'' was to have been carried out over three days, wherein buffaloes were to be used to attract the lions to a pre- determined spot for a count.

About 200 male buffaloes were procured by the department at Rs 800 per head. However, officials have called off the operation following press reports and a public outcry that many of these baits would get killed.

Chief conservator of forests G.A. Patel had already clarified that the baits would only be ``shown'' to the lions and not allowed to be killed. While several other experts had called this method ``outdated'', Patel maintained that it was the most efficient, time-tested method known for carrying out such a census.

There is also some controversy over the forest department's move to keep the media out of the census area. Doubts have also been raised over the fact that experts from the Wild Life Institute of India will not take part in the census as invitations were extended to them very late.

Simultaneously, the population of panthers will be counted through the pug-mark technique, while ungulates (deer, sambhar, etc) have already been counted by a method called ``road transact'', a few days ago.

An army of piggies, men who specialise in tracking the pug- marks of animals, will be involved in the exercise.

   
 
89 Gir lions died in five years:
 

Times of India, March 7th 2000

GANDHINAGAR: As many as 89 lions and their cubs have died due to various reasons, including old age and mishaps, in the Gir forests in last five years, according to forest minister Kanjibhai Patel.

In a written reply to Jasubhai Barad of the Congress, the minister said most of the lions died due to old age and also in the internal fighting among the wild animals in the Gir lion sanctuary in Junagadh district.

Some cubs died after falling in the wells inside the sanctuary, the minister said. There were 304 lions in the sanctuary as per last census conducted in 1995, he added.

He also said that the state had received over Rs 9 crore from the Centre for implementation of the schemes aimed at developing and preserving ecology in the sanctuary. Out of this, Rs 6.20 crore has been spent for the development of the protected areas of the sanctuary and towards literacy programmes for the people living in the villages situated in the sanctuary.

The Centre had sanctioned Rs 2.42 crore in 1998-99 and Rs 6.89 crore in 1999-2000 for the said projects.

 
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