Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A role model from a remote village by JAYANTI S. RAVI

Source: Frontline India's National Magazinefrom the publishers of THE HINDU

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Kamlesh Adhiya
Asiatic Lion Protection Society
Rajkot INDIA
Mobile: +91 98243 26111

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Story of Asia's Lions by Divyabhanusinh.

Hi all there!

The Story of Asia's Lions is a celebration of a wildlife heritage of Asia that will be treasured in the years to come. It is also an alarm call to civil society and to the Government of India to save what is left of this legacy - not just the lion, but along with it all the wonderful creatures of the Indian wilderness.

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Kamlesh Adhiya
Asiatic Lion Protection Society
Rajkot 360 001 INDIA
Mobile: +91 98243 26111

Finding a second home for the Asiatic Lion by MANAS DASGUPTA



Homing in

Finding a second home for the Asiatic Lion is proving a tricky issue. MANAS DASGUPTA surveys the problems at the existing refuge in Gujarat.

A FORTNIGHT before the Lok Sabha elections in Gujarat on April 20, the 14-kilometre stretch from Talala to Visavadar through the Gir National Park and Sanctuary, the only abode of Asiatic Lion, was re-opened for the public and vehicular traffic.

The Junagadh District Collector imposed the ban a few months ago to protect the wild life but lifting it was a political decision. Unfortunately for the Gir Sanctuary, particularly the near-extinct species of the Asiatic Lion, political considerations have always been supreme. Another issue confronting the sanctuary is the creation of a second home for the Asiatic Lion and it is not yet clear if the final decision will be taken on political grounds or strictly on scientific basis.
The need to create a second home for the Asiatic Lion, whose numbers rose from a mere 20 in 1913 to 327 at present, was seen in 1979 but a dispute over the location has led to delays for 25 years. A suggestion was made to shift a part of the pride from Gir to Kunopalpur forest in Madhya Pradesh. But the Gujarat Government is reluctant to part with the distinction of being the only home of the Asiatic Lion.

"It is a purely emotional and political decision," said a senior state forest department official, who does not want to be quoted. "No one asked us. Else the Forest Department would have said creating a second home in Kunopalpur would be better than shifting some animals to Barda forest," he said.

The State Government favours the 192 sq. km. Barda forest near Porbandar, about 100 kilometres from the present sanctuary, to take some pressure off the Gir sanctuary. Some of the lions have begun straying into human habitations. But would it solve the problem?
The State forest officials are doubtful. According to P. P. Raval, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Gir Sanctuary, some animals have already reached near Barda. A pair of lions entered Porbandar city in May 2003. They were recaptured and brought back to Gir. At least 40 lions and 77 leopards have strayed into foothills of Girnar Mountain on the outskirts of Junagadh and in the coastal forests touching Porbandar.

Geographically, the 500-square kilometre Kunopalpur forest, partly covered with grassland required for Asiatic Lion, is said to be more suitable for the lions. But the decision will not be without its pitfalls. Firstly, the Kunopalpur forest also has a small population of tigers. Secondly, as there is no corridor between Gir and Kunopalpur officials fear that, detached from its homeland, the lions in the M.P. forest may behave differently and become a threat to human habitations.

As Raval pointed out, the State Forest Department cannot claim sole credit for the growth of the Asiatic Lion in Gir. The Maldharis (cow-breeders) living around also helped. Despite occasional attacks on their animals, the Maldharis refrained from poisoning or hunting the lions. The M.P. Government and the Centre would have to develop a similar attitude among the people around Kunopalpur to help the lions grow.

The State Government is concerned as a similar experiment earlier proved fatal for the animals. In the early 1970s, four lions from Gir were shifted to Chandraprabha forest in Uttar Pradesh on an experimental basis. The number grew to 11 but suddenly all disappeared. It was feared that people living around the forest were responsible.

A similar tendency around Kunopalpur could cause havoc to the population of Asiatic Lion. Gir presently houses only about 100 pairs. The cyclonic storm off the Arabian Sea that threatened the Gujarat coast earlier this month fortunately dissipated without causing damage. Faced with an acute shortage of water, the heavy rains that lashed parts of Saurashtra gave the authorities a breather as they battled to supply water through tankers to the water holes in the forest. According to Raval, five tankers were pressed into service to maintain water supply. Fortunately, there is no problem with subsoil water and the authorities do not have to bring water from outside the sanctuary zone for the animals in the forest. Only a small trickle of water still flows through the
Heran, the Meghad, the Madhuwanti, the Vokla, the Khalkhal and several other rivers and springs in the sanctuary.

But water is a perennial problem and the Gir authorities have learnt to battle with it. What causes more concern is the influx of humans that disturb the wild animals. A plea from the local Hindus to allow night halts at the temples located in the deep forest was earlier turned down by the State Government but there is no stopping of the flow of pilgrims through the Sanctuary.
The habitats of the Gir National Park are already threatened by increasing activities in its periphery, particularly mining of limestone for cement factories, the existence of a number of temples, including three major ones, deep inside the sanctuary attracting about 2,00,000 pilgrims a year — more on certain important festival days.

The Kankai Mata temple, the main deity of the Maldhari, situated in the middle of the jungle has always been a popular pilgrim centre.
The Government, however, turned down a plea from the local Maldharis and other Hindu leaders to allow the temple trust to construct rest houses in the temple complex to discourage people from spending nights in the sanctuary.

Besides Kankai Mata, Banej, Tulsi Shyam and other temples located in the Sanctuary also attract huge pilgrims. The cow breeders have become an integral part of the Gir ecosystem as they have been living there since generations, but it is necessary for the government to ensure that the decisions are taken keeping the Asiatic Lion and the flora and fauna of the Gir in focus and do not clouded by political considerations.

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