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Gir lions find new sanctuary

Times of India: October 25, 2003

GANDHINAGAR: Putting an end to the controversy over a move to shift Gir lions to Madhya Pradesh, the state government has sought the Centre’s permission to set up a new lion sanctuary at Mithiyala in Amreli district to provide more protection to the Asiatic lions.

Because of the increasing number of deaths of lions in the Gir lion sanctuary along with congestion in the forest area the government has prepared a proposal for Mithiyala where a new sanctuary covering an 18 square km area will be created once the project is cleared by the Centre. Plans have also been afoot to shift some of the lions to Barda hills in Jamnagar district.

Sources said that at present at least nine lions that have moved from Gir have chosen Mithiyala as their home as this forest has similar surroundings. The forest department will fence the area on the lines of the Gir lion sanctuary. The facilities at the sanctuary will require a budget of at least Rs 2 crore.

Seventy lions including 20 cubs have died in the past two years in the Gir lion sanctuary, mainly due to poaching. The population of lions has reached 327 in this sanctuary, which is one of the largest ones spread across a 1,400 km area in Asia.

“We are trying to provide high level protection to the lions of Gir by setting up the new sanctuary at Mithiyala which will also solve the problem of the Meta population confronting the Gir lion sanctuary,” sources in the government said.

The proposal has been pending clearance by the Centre along with a proposal for another bird sanctuary at Charidaund in the Rann of Kutch for migratory birds coming from Central Asia and Europe.

Chief conservator of forest (wildlife) Pradeep Khanna said that the proposals for both the Mithiyala lion sanctuary and the Charidaund bird sanctuary are pending approval of the Union forest department. At present the state has 21 sanctuaries and four national parks.

Gir space crunch driving lions out

Indian Express: June 20, 2003

While it is known that the number of Asiatic lions is on the rise, what is interesting is that their population in the Gir Protected Area (comprising the Gir National Park and Gir Wildlife Sanctuary) has remained relatively constant, and it is the peripheral areas where their number is rising.

‘‘Lion sightings are being recorded in areas where they were previously not seen. These are mainly the areas which years back served as their habitat before they were driven into Gir,’’ says H.S. Singh, Director of Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation.

A total of 327 animals were registered in and around the protected area by the State Forest Department in the recent census. Of these, 271 were sighted in GPA while 56 were found in surrounding areas. Much to the surprise of wildlife experts, 29 lions were seen in Bhavnagar circle. Six of the big cats were sighted in Bhavnagar’s Hipawadli village, which is 40 km from the GPA.

Deputy Conservator of Forests (Gir West) Mahesh Singh says: ‘‘The lions are migrating to newer areas. This is mainly because the GPA has reached saturation as far as its carrying capacity is concerned. New entrants are being driven out by the existing population. Migration is being observed since the last decade as the lion population has increased considerably.

Another reason for the migration is believed to be the easy availability of prey. In the GPA, lions mainly feed on herbivorous animals. In peripheral areas there is livestock to feed on because of the dense human settlements. ‘‘They get food easily and so prefer to stay there,’’ says Singh.

It has been suggested that forests on the periphery of GPA be developed to help the lion population. Now there is a fresh reminder that such action is needed urgently. Two lionesses, aged six and seven, were recently found dead on the periphery of the sanctuary.

While villagers say the lionesses had drowned, officials suspect these were electrocuted when they came in contact with electrified fences around the fields. Though the post-mortem has attributed the deaths to drowning, the doctor who conducted the autopsies said finding the exact cause of death was difficult as the bodies had decomposed.

Two lions found dead in Gir Sanctuary

Times of India: May 7, 2003

Brought in from Porbandar to Gir’s Devadia National Park, these two male lions clearly could not adapt to the new environment. The duo — captured from Porbandar’s coastal forest in February following villagers’ complaints — were found dead a couple of days ago.

Forest Department sources said shifting of territory proved fatal for the lions, who ‘‘could not adapt.’’ The two lions — aged around five and six — were found dead within 100 feet of each other atop a hill, which they refused to climb down in the last couple of days. It was on May 2 Forest officials last saw the lions.

Terming the incident as ‘‘unfortunate,’’ Conservator of Forests Bhatat Pathak said the lions had died a natural death.

Forest officials said the lions had not settled down as was apparent from their behaviour even a few days after they were released into their new habitat. A radio collar had been fitted on one of them to facilitate tracking. On April 24, worried officials captured the duo and put them under observation for 24 hours at Gola Bhuva Tirth area. Despite meat being placed before them during captivity here, the lions did not eat. A day later, they were released even as members of a special team continued to trail them.

The lions had been captured on February 15 from Maktupur village, some 20 km from Mangrol town in Junagadh district. They had reportedly killed several cattle and a horse in Porbandar district in one-and-a-half months after which villagers complained.

Deputy Conservator of Forests (Sasan Gir) P P Raval said: ‘‘Once the lions also attacked trailing members of the Forest Department team. The inhabitants of a coastal forest, they rejected the new territory. They seemed directionless and had stopped hunting for prey as well as eating.

Forest officials tried to give them food near the water point at the foot of the hill, but in vain. The lions then stopped coming down, and were later found dead.’’

This is not the first time that the Forest Department had released a lion captured from the coastal belt in Gir.

Raval said, ‘‘Forest officials have captured dozens of wild animals, and released them in the forest, but such an incident has never happened before. Both lions were quite young and healthy.’’

‘‘We found them lying dead on the top of the hill on May 4. They may have died the previous day. The distance between the two dead lions was 100 feet. It was because of the radio collar that we could trace them,’’ Raval added.

Central Aid likely for water crisis in forest

Times of India: April 21, 2003

Scanty rainfall for the last four years in the region has led to a severe water crisis in the forests of Gir National Park. All the natural water bodies in the park- about a dozen odd rivers and a similar number of small and large reservoirs have dried up early, creating severe problems for the wildlife here. The biggest reservoir in the area, the Kamleshwar Dam, dubbed 'the lifeline of Gir' has also dried up completely.

Water is now being provided to the animals by the dozen odd tankers that have been put into service by the Forest Department. Water is being provided at over 350 water points all across the forest area and the FD has said that they feel the supply was adequate for the moment.

The water scarcity has also resulted in the increased incidences of animals straying from the forests, resulting in increased human -animal conflict. This problem has been larger in the case of leopards, particularly in the forests of Panchmahals and Baria. The situation has been further compounded by the fact that there are thousands of heads of cattle, belonging to the 'maldharis' inside the forests. Additionally there are a number of villages in the region that share the limited water resources with the wildlife.

The State FD has asked the Centre to provide special financial assistance to deal with the recurring water problem, and a sum of Rs. 20 lakhs had reportedly been promised.

Fires Eat Away Gir Forest Cover

IndianExpress: March 31, 2003

In the past 15 days, more than 700 hectares of prime forest land in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park have been affected by forest fires. The fires have destroyed bamboo and fodder worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and affected small fauna and avian life. Though experts and forest officials say wildfires occur during this time of year, they admit their number has gone up due to certain manmade factors. There has been a rise in the incidence of forest fires and they are investigating.

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