Friday, December 19, 2008

TN ranked low on environmental sustainability index

19 Dec 2008, 0059 hrs IST, TNN

CHENNAI: In a wake-up call to the state government, a Chennai-based non-profit research institute has ranked Tamil Nadu very low at 22 out of 28
states in the country on an environmental sustainability index (ESI).

The index has been prepared by the Centre for Development Finance (CDF) of the Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR) based on the environmental performance of states in the country. The ESI shows that the state is at 22nd place in a list that ranks the ability of 28 states to protect their environment in the coming years.

"ESI is an attempt to create a baseline of state's relative position in a sustainable trajectory. It has a strong policy focus and is designed to advocate analytical and empirical foundation for environmental policy making," said Jessica Wallack, director, CDF.

Studying 44 variables clustered into 15 indicators under five policy components to arrive at the ESI, the study reveals that none of the state is on a sustainable trajectory. At the same time, none of the states have performed very poor in all dimensions. Most states have done well in some areas and need to improve a lot in many other issues, the report says.

Shockingly, Tamil Nadu has scored very poorly, compared to other states, in environment governance which includes energy management, people's and government initiatives and curbing down on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, says Rupanwita Dash, the researcher.

The indicators on air and water pollution, waste generation, land use, natural resource endowment, air and water quality, GHG emissions are all in the negative for the state. Even if environment (control) systems were present, the stress on environment was on the rise, Rupanwita points out.

The best performing state in the 2008 ranking is Manipur. followed by Sikkim and Tripura with the lowest ranking states are Punjab, Gujarat and Haryana based on study of parameters like population pressure, stress on environment, environment systems, health vulnerability and environment governance.

At the launch function, Sikkim environment and forest department representative Pradeep Kumar highlighted how the government's laws like those relating to the ban on plastics, use of chemicals in farming and environment cess, had helped in conservation and bring in more money for forestry.

"Political will is essential," he affirmed. Chattisgarh member secretary of environment P V Narasigham Rao said the state was setting an example by finely balancing between industrialisation and ecology by strict monitoring. Meghalaya forest commissioner C D Kynjing said the Centre should create a "green fund" for north-eastern states for increasing forest cover.

Award for green states was given to five select states, who had performed well on various aspects of environmental sustainability, viz., Himachal Pradesh (government's initiative), Manipur (people's initiative), Chattishgarh (least polluted water), Sikkim (conservation of natural resources) and Meghalaya (air quality).


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Forest Dept sends delegation to telecom ministry to regularise wireless stations

Shubhlakshmi Shukla Posted: Dec 16, 2008 at 0407 hrs IST

Vadodara: Taking cognisance of an Express Newsline report published in September that pointed to nearly 12 wildlife and social forest circles in the state using wireless and base stations without operating licences, the Forest Department has sent a delegation from the forest vigilance department to the Ministry of Telecommunication, Delhi. All Division Forest Officers (DFOs) have been instructed to be in touch with the MoT to expedite the process of regularising wireless stations, according to forest officials.

Gujarat Forest Minister Mangu Patel said: “After the report was published around two months ago, forest officials were sent to the MoT. We have also taken the initiative to contact all forest officials on this issue.”

Chief Conservator of Forest, Vigilance Department, Rajeeva said: “All Forest officials have been asked to fill an online registration form and specify the details on the number of new wireless sets purchased and for how many years they have been using the same. They are also required to give a contact number of the concerned authority to guide them on the issue.”


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sadhus frown upon Modi’s ‘priestly’ act at Dwarka temple

Sibte Husain Bukhari
Posted: Dec 14, 2008 at 0030 hrs IST

Junagadh Sadhus of Junagadh have raised eye-brows over Chief Minister Narendra Modi conducting a religious ceremony at the Dwarkadhish Temple in Dwarka on Friday. According to a section of sadhus, it is the exclusive right of the Shankaracharya or Brahmins to perform religious rites at the temple and politicians should have nothing to do with them.

The sadhus also said that the sanctity of the temple is violated when politicians perform religious ceremonies. On Friday, Modi had participated in a religious ceremony to install a golden throne specially made for Lord Krishna, which was donated by a devotee.

Mahant Gopalanand, president, All India Sadhu Samaj (Gujarat Chapter), said, “Some ceremonies are exclusively conducted by the Shankaracharya or Brahmin priests. No other person is allowed to perform them. If politicians perform those ceremonies, then it violates the temple’s sanctity and the spiritual environment. Politicians should not cross certain limits. They should concentrate more on their work.”

Gopalanand further said that instead of taking a keen interest in developing the religious places, they are interfering in holy ceremonies. “They have not given permission to carry out repair work at a temple in Dwarka. Besides, a grant of Rs 15 crore sanctioned for various developmental work in the Girnar region has been idle since long,” he added. The Mahant has appealed to the people to raise their voices against Modi’s act.


Cloning: saving the endangered species

By having exploited the earth’s resources in unbridled manner, for our needs (and greed), we have placed the numbers and very existence of several other life forms in jeopardy. We have aggrandized more land, used up more water, exploited more plants and animals, and produced more waste (much of which will not go away).

This has upset nature’s fragile equilibrium. One direct result of this is the endangerment of some life forms. A few examples are the Amazon rain forest, the panda, the great apes, cheetah, Asiatic lion and even the common Indian vulture. Some such as the dodo bird and the great American bison have been lost forever.
The folly

Fortunately, realization of the folly has dawned on us, even if late in the day. And several groups and international agencies are putting together contingency plans using new ideas of resurrection. Advances in biology in the last decades have come into use in this welcome move.

How does one repopulate an endangered species? By making more of them using the biological steps involved in reproduction. The method of in vitro fertilization (making test tube babies) is one such. Indeed, it has become so standard by now that it is hard to believe that it was only thirty years ago that Drs. Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards helped produce Louise Brown, the first test tube human baby.

With animals, we have gone one step ahead. In order to produce Louise, it was necessary to fuse her father’s genes (in his sperm) with her mother’s (in her egg) and place the fertilized egg back in the mother’s womb.

And when Louise was born, most of the cells in her body (barring some special ones) had the genetic contents of both her parents in the cell nucleus. In this sense, each such ‘somatic’ cell has all the genetic contents of the fertilized egg. It has the biology of the father and the mother in it.

Here is a thought experiment. Let us first take an unfertilized egg, remove its nuclear contents, and place in it the entire genetic material from a somatic cell.

Now let us place this egg in the womb of the ‘would-be’ mother and produce the baby. The baby so born will be genetically identical to the individual from whose cell we took the genes to place the empty egg.

The baby is thus the clone of that individual; and the latter is both the father and mother of the baby! The one who provided the egg is then the ‘surrogate’ mother.

This is the experiment that Dr Ian Wilmut of Edinburgh did in his lab when he produced Dolly the baby sheep.

In this case, the somatic cell came from a sheep (let us call her Holly), and the egg that was emptied came from another (Molly).

Holly’s nuclear material was placed in Molly’s donated egg, and this was placed in the womb of a surrogate (Polly?) and, in time, out came Dolly. She came out of a process that biologists call somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT.
An idea born

Here then is born the idea of cloning animals. What if we take carefully stored tissues and cells from animals long since extinct, or currently endangered, and do a Dolly on them? The devil is of course in the details — the way the tissue has been stored.

The genetic material in the tissue or cell should be intact, and not degraded and decomposed. Museum and archival samples are fine as long as they satisfy this condition.
Recent work

Recent work from the RIKEN Centre in Kobe, Japan shows that cloning is possible from cells of dead mice that had been frozen in a – 80 degree Centigrade deep freezer for 16 years!

Writing in PNAS (US) earlier this month, Teruhiko Wakayama and associates describe how they had taken material from the brain tissue of mice, did a SCNT into an emptied mouse egg and generated baby mice.

They also note that it was easiest to create clones from brain cells, presumably since brain tissue is rich in sugars, which protect cells from damage during freezing and thawing.

Close on the heels of this comes another cloning, this one on the endangered species called the Amami rabbit. Called a living fossil, these rabbits, once abundant in Japan, have been decimated by killer dogs and hunter men.

Cloning in this case was done using the ear cells of an Amami rabbit and transferring its nucleus into the emptied egg of an ordinary rabbit. The scientists expect the cloned Amami baby to arrive by mid-December.

Given these encouraging results, it should be possible to clone several endangered species, and the Hyderabad-based Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES) will surely attempt to add this method as well, to its battery of techniques in assisted reproduction. They have the ability and the commitment to do so.

The technology raises important, and troubling, issues when we turn to humans. Would it be useful to clone and bring to life a Neanderthal? Or even a highly admired and revered homo sapiens?



How sleuths using forensic science cracked killings of 10 Gir lions

December 16th, 2008 - 10:22 am ICT by IANS -

Ahmedabad, Dec 16 (IANS) It was a macabre serial crime. Ten killings in over a month and the killers had melted away in the darkness of the dense jungle. But a dogged Criminal Investigation Department of Gujarat Police that probed the killings of 10 Gir lions was able to crack their first wildlife case, using conventional forensic methods, and nab the criminals.In early 2007, in a span of 35 days 10 lions were killed in three different incidents in the sprawling Gir wildlife sanctuary in western India. “Only two claws were recovered,” says Keshav Kumar, Inspector General of Police, Prisons, who prosecuted the case.

“After a lacklustre probe by the forest department, the CID Crime was called and I was asked to head the probe,” Kumar, who had served for four long years in CID Crime, told IANS.

“There were many firsts to the case. It was a wildlife crime investigation case that was given to the police CID Crime to investigate. None of the accused was released on bail until conviction - a national record as in most wildlife crime cases bail is granted within 15 days,” said Kumar.

In October, 20 people, including three women, were sentenced to three years’ imprisonment along with Rs.10,000 fine each for poaching lions in the Gir forest of Gujarat.

It was a rare conviction for wildlife crime in India by the court of a Senior Division Judicial Magistrate First Class of Junagadh.

Speaking to IANS about his experiences in handling the wildlife crime, Kumar said, “When I began I knew nothing about wildlife crime though I had 23 years’ expertise in solving conventional crimes with orthodox police training. I therefore sought the help of wildlife crime investigation experts, wildlife NGOs and expert help from the forensic lab.”

“It was then that I contacted Belinda Wright, who heads the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). She told me to focus on hazel-eyed Baheliyas, a tribal community of Madhya Pradesh, that specializes in poaching activities at an all India level.”

“But how was I to recognise a Baheliya? Belinda told me that foul smell emanated from these people as they rarely took bath and usually pitched tents on the roadside selling exotic herbs. Their womenfolk looked different in ghaghras (full length skirts). She said they hid their instruments in potholes dug behind the tents,” Kumar said.

“My early focus was in Junagadh and my team picked up 55 suspects in the Junagadh Range… It was also for the first time that blood splatter analysis was done to reconstruct the scene of crime,” Kumar said.

He was given a full forensic team and deputy director who camped with him in the jungle for 15 days. It soon paid off.

“From Baheliya women in custody we found two lion claws. There was lion blood in the finger nails of their menfolk. The claws, the clothes and other things were sent to the forensic lab. I prepared the case systematically,” Kumar said.

As the case progressed the defence wanted bail on grounds of the accused being very poor.

“Baheliyas are known to jump bail and they cannot be traced as they are nomads,” Supreme Court lawyer Sudhir Mishra, appointed legal consultant for the case, told the apex court.

“I too pointed to the court that lion’s blood was found on the finger nails of the Baheliyas and further investigation is on, including polygraph and narco-analysis. The bail was cancelled. It was for the first time all lower courts and session courts had rejected their bail applications,” Kumar said.

Why did the culprits, who included the notorious Circus Lal of Madhya Pradesh, go for lions instead of tigers? “This is the first known case in India in which the lions were hunted for trade. Tigers are the first preference as each part of it is highly valuable. But with tigers disappearing, the poachers thought that lions would have to do, and secondly it is difficult to differentiate the parts of the two species,” Kumar said.

“The tools of conventional forensic methods were used for the first time in wildlife crime and it is Kumar who deserves full credit ultimately in cracking the case,” Samir Sinha, country head of Traffic India, which is part of WWF Delhi, told IANS.

Discussing another wildlife case, he said the Karnataka government had recently held one Prabhakar and seized from him Rs.12.5 million worth of tiger skins, claws and teeth. A fortnight before that, a notorious smuggler Shabbir Hassan Qureshi was apprehended by the Uttar Pradesh police from Lucknow and 17 tiger skins and 100 tiger bones, worth Rs.20 million, were recovered. A team went from Gujarat to Uttar Pradesh.

Qureshi, who was nabbed Nov 25, was interestingly booked under the Money Laundering Act along with the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

“Unlike the Wildlife Act, fixing Shabbir Hassan Qureshi under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) was quick and effective as it involved only paper work,” said Rajeshwar, assistant director in the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Lucknow.

Speaking to IANS from Lucknow, Rajeshwar said it was a new dimension to book an accused of wildlife crimes also under the PMLA. “PMLA results in faster conviction in almost 100 percent cases,” he said.


79 Asiatic lions die in past two years

New Delhi, Dec 11 (PTI) At least 79 Asiatic lions have died in Gir forest alone in Gujarat in the last two years since 2006, Environment minister S Reghupathy told the Lok Sabha.
According to Reghupathy, while 24 lions died in 2006, another 55 died in 2007. Out of the total deaths, as many as 50 died due to natural reasons such as old age while 13 animals died accidentally felling into wells in the area during the two years, he said.

The Minister, who was replying to a written question, said in 2007, six cases of electrocution and eight poaching incidents were also reported.

"As per information received from the state government, the population of Asiatic lion, based on the census carried out in 2005, is approximately 359 in Brihat Gir region of Gujarat," Reghupathy added.

The Minister said as part of its effort to protect the animal, the state government has taken several steps such as augmenting manpower, increased mobility of staff by providing motorcycles and other vehicles, better communication between the personnel and gathering support of local residents. PTI


Lions likely to get second home in Barda Sanctuary

Ahmedabad (PTI): After refusing to give lions for relocation at Kuno-Palpur Sanctuary of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat Government is setting up a prey base in Barda Wildlife Sanctuary in a plan to give a second home to Asiatic lions within the state, after Gir.

Though the talks of relocation of Asiatic Lions in Barda has been going on for years, but by increasing prey base in the 192.31 sq kms Barda protected forest area in Porbandar district, the forest department seems to be serious this time.

The forest department has recently released a number of Chitals (spotted deer) and Sambars (common Asian deer) in the Barda sanctuary after making them accustomed to climate of the sanctuary. The long term plan is to relocate lions to give them a second home, officials of the sanctuary said.

At present, the only home of the last surviving Asiatic Lions is Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park in Junagadh and Amreli districts of the state, where as per the last survey of 2005, there were 359 lions.

State forest department officials said in the long term, the plan was to relocate lions from Gir to Barda Wildlife Sanctuary.

"We are at present increasing the prey base in Barda," Principal Conservator of Forest of Gujarat Pradeep Khanna said, neither denying not acknowledging the plans of relocation of lions to Barda.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Poacing alert in Gir.


A gang of lion poachers is said to entered in Gir sanctuary. Intense combing operations have been launched by forest and police departments ager a lioness was found badly injured and a lion went missing from Pania area in Gir (east). The lioness suffered severe injuries in the face and throat and forest officials suspect that it was the hadiwork of poachers. Teams have fanned out in Kankai, Sasna, Lalpur and Una to look for poachers. The fresh threat comes barely a month after a gang of 19 poachers, all from Madhya Pradesh, were convicted for killing six lions las year.

Source: Sunday Times, November 16, 2008, Front Page.

એન્વાયર્મેન્ટ ક્લિયરન્સ સર્ટીફીકેટનાં વાંકે ગીરનાર રોપ-વે પ્રોજેક્ટ અટક્યો


જૂનાગઢ જિલ્લાભરના પ્રજાજનો માટે અત્યંત મહત્વકાંક્ષી એવો ગીરનાર રોપ-વે પ્રોજેક્ટ એન્વાયરમેન્ટ ક્લીયરન્સ સર્ટીના વાંકે ફરી એક વખત અટકી પડયો છે. આ યોજનાના ખાત મુહુર્તના દોઢ વર્ષ બાદ પણ કોઈ જ કામગીરી શરૃ નથી થઈ. અને હવે છેક એપ્રિલ-૦૯ થી પ્રોજેક્ટની કામગીરી શરૃ થાય તેવી શક્યતા વ્યક્ત કરાઈછે. જો કે આ સર્ટી મેળવવા કંપનીએ કાર્યવાહિ શરૃ કરી દીધી છે.

* ખાતમુહૂર્ત થયાને દોઢ વર્ષ વીતી ગયું : કેન્દ્ર સરકાર પાસેથી લેવાનું થતું એન.ઓ.સી. છેક એપ્રિલ-૦૯ સુધીમાં આવવાની શક્યતા

છેલ્લા ત્રણ દાયકાથી જેના ગાણા ગવાઈ રહ્યા છે. એવા ગીરનાર રોપ વે પ્રોજેક્ટ માટે તમા કાર્યવાહિ બાદ ર૦ માર્ચ ર૦૦૭ ના રોજ ઉષા બ્રકોને રાજ્ય સરકાર દ્વારા લોઅર સ્ટેશન બનાવવા માટે ૪૦૦ મી જમીન સોંપી દેવામાં આવી છે. ૧ મે ર૦૦૭ ના રોજ ગુજરાત ગૌરવ દિનની ઉજવણી નિમિતે જૂનાગઢ આવેલા મુખ્યમંત્રી નરેન્દ્ર મોદીના હસ્તે રોપ-વે યોજનાનું ખાત મુહુર્ત પણ કરી નાખવામાં આવ્યુ. તથા રોપ-વે માટે તમામ ૭.ર હેક્ટર જમીન પ ફેબ્રુઆરી ર૦૦૮ ના રોજ સરકાર દ્વારા કંપનીને સોંપી દેવામાં આવી. ગીરનાર જંગલમાં રોપ-વે બનાવવા માટે લેવાનું થતુ એન્વાયરમેન્ટ ક્લીયરન્સ સર્ટી પણ કંપનીએ રાજ્ય સરકાર પાસેથી મેળવી લીધુ. ગાડી વ્યવસ્થિત રીતે પાટે ચડી દોડવા માંડી હતી. પ્રજાજનોનું સ્વપ્ન સાકાર થઈ રહ્યુ હતું. ત્યા જ ગીરનારને અભયારણ્યનો દરજ્જો મળતા રાજ્ય સરકાર પાસેથી લેવાનું થતું એન્વાયરમેન્ટ ક્લીયરન્સ સર્ટી કેન્દ્ર સરકાર પાસેથી લેવાની નવી વાત આવી. અને ફરી એક વખત ગીરનાર રોપવે યોજના અટકી પડી.

રોપ-વે યોજના સંદર્ભે ધારાસભ્ય મહેન્દ્રભાઈ મશરૃએ ‘સંદેશ’ સાથેની વાતચિત દરમ્યાન જણાવ્યુ છે કે ગત મંગળવારે આ સંદર્ભે રાજ્યના પી.સી.સી.એફ. પ્રદિપ ખન્ના અને રોપ-વે કંપનીના અધિકારીઓ સાથે તેઓએ ગાંધીનગર ખાતે બેઠક યોજી હતી. અને ર૬ જાન્યુઆરી સુધીમાં કામગીરી શરૃ કરી દેવાની માંગણી કરી છે.

રાજ્ય સરકારના પ્રયાસો બાબતે તેઓએ જણાવ્યુ છે કે મુખ્યમંત્રીના હસ્તે ખાતમુહુર્ત થયુ અને બધી જ જમીન સોંપી દેવાઈ તે બાબત જ દર્શાવે છે કે, રાજ્ય સરકારને આ યોજનામાં રસ છે. તેમજ જરૃર પડયે પ્રતિનિધિ મંડળને સાથે લઈ દિલ્હી ખાતે રજુઆત કરવા જવાની તૈયારી પણ તેઓએ દર્શાવી છે. ક્લીયરન્સ સર્ટી મળે એટલે બીજા જ દિવસથી કામ શરૃ કરી દેવાની તૈયારી દર્શાવતા ઉષા બ્રેકોના વેસ્ટર્ન રિજીયોનલ હેડ દિપક કપ્લીસે ‘સંદેશ’ સાથેની વાતચિતમાં જણાવ્યું છે કે, કેન્દ્ર સરકાર પાસેથી એન્વાયરમેન્ટ ક્લીયરન્સ સર્ટી મેળવવાની પ્રક્રિયા ૬૦ ટકા જેટલી પૂર્ણ થઈ ગઈ છે. ફેબ્રુઆરી ર૦૦૮ થી આ પ્રક્રિયા શરૃ થઈ ગઈ છે. અને કન્સલટન્ટે આપેલા શિડયુલ પ્રમાણે આ પ્રક્રિયા નોર્મલ રીતે ચાલે તો આગામી એપ્રીલ ર૦૦૯ સુધીમાં પૂર્ણ થાય.

બીજી તરફ ૧૪ સપ્ટેમ્બર, ર૦૦૬ ના રોજ દાખલ થયેલા નવા નિયમ અનુસાર એન્વાર્યમેન્ટ ક્લીયરન્સ સર્ટી વગર કામ શરૃ કરવાની વાત તો દુર રહી કંપની જમીનમાં પ્રવેશી શકે પણ નહિ. આમ ગીરનાર રોપ વે યોજના ફરી એક વખત અટકી પડી છે. હવે જૂનાગઢનાં આગેવાનો જેટલી વધુ સક્રિયતા દાખવે એટલી ઝડપે ફરી ગીરનાર પ્રોજેક્ટ શરૃ થઈ શકે છે.


In Gir, too many lions, too little space.

Sasan Gir, November 16, 2008
First Published: 00:35 IST(16/11/2008)
Last Updated: 00:37 IST(16/11/2008)

Earlier this month, two lions were captured in Gondal, 100 km north of India’s only refuge for the Asiatic lion.

It’s only the latest indication that the lions of Gir National Park are becoming victims of a conservation success.

This decade, lions have preyed on domestic cattle, fallen into village wells, been electrocuted by fences, even seen on Gujarat’s beaches.

The last official census in 2005 revealed 359 lions where there were 180 three decades ago in Gir, set up in 1974 as the Indian lion’s home.

Only, no one told the lions.

“They don’t know where reserve forest limits end and villages begin,” noted I. K. Chauhan, deputy conservator of forests. “They go wherever they see thick vegetation.”

Gir, spread over a core area of 258.7 square km in Gujarat’s Junagadh district, can accommodate upto 300 lions. That’s not enough now.

The solution: Expand the core area — no humans allowed here — or move some lions.

Expanding the core will displace tribals, and that’s politically impossible. As for finding a new home, the Gujarat government refuses to share its lions.

Madhya Pradesh has been trying to lay its hand on a few of Gir’s surplus lions for more than a decade, hoping to move them to a forest near Gwalior, to its Kunopalpur forest reserve.

Gujarat didn’t actually refuse to move lions: It simply did not.

The MP government has since approached the Supreme Court, but Gujarat refuses.

“Why should we give up our lions?” a senior politician argued, requesting anonymity.

Wildlife experts cite another reason. “Lions and tigers can’t stay in the same forest,” said S.K. Nanda, state environment and forest secretary. “There are tigers at Kunopalpur. We won’t sacrifice our lions.”


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

See them soon on national park safari.

Nitya Kaushik
Posted: Nov 12, 2008 at 0317 hrs IST

Mumbai, November 11 Two newly born royal Bengal tigers, currently being raised with utmost care in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), will soon become the star attraction of the park’s tiger safari rides. One-and-half months from now, the park officials plan to let out the cubs in the secondary cage along with their mother, 9-year-old Basanti, for the viewing pleasure of visitors.

Bengal tigers are highly endangered animals, with an estimated population of between 1,300 and 1,500 in wild in India. However, conservationists say, captive births are inconsequential as it is almost impossible to rehabilitate the big cats.

The two fluffy, new flaming orange cubs — a male and a female — were born on October 7, to Basanti and Palash (both 9). The cubs have not been weighed, named or handled by humans yet, and currently occupy a makeshift den created in one of the tiger cages. They spend most of their time feeding and huddling with their mother, the tiger safari handlers said.

According to SGNP wildlife vet, Dr Vinaya Jangale, infection and deaths are very high among tiger cubs, whether in wild or in captivity. “However, the first month after its birth is usually the most tenuous, and now there is a high chance that both the cubs will survive,” she said.

Among the first threats to the cubs, she stated, was climactic changes. “Their resistance to the weather is very weak. For an entire month, we monitored their den by providing a heater at night and cooler in the day. Since their eyes were closed for the first few days, we had to ensure that light doesn’t filter into their cages. A slight glare can affect their vision,” she explained.

Instructions were also given to handlers to not touch the cubs, for the fear of being rejected by their mother. “The olfactory senses or tigers are very sharp. The mother may refuse to feed or attend to the babies if she gets a human scent from them,” she explained.

As the cubs’ sole diet is their mother’s milk, handlers are now supplementing Basanti’s meals with vitamins, Jangale said. “She gets two live chickens to eat every day aside from her regular beef diet. Also we supplement her intake with extra doses of calcium and vitamins added to her water.”

In the wild, cubs remain attached to their mother for nearly two-and-a-half months so that they can fully cultivate their skills to prey, but according to Jangale, captive tigers could be separated in just one-and-a-half months. When the two SGNP cubs complete three months, they will be administered their first vaccine shots she added.

With the birth of the two new cubs the park has a total of 10 tigers, and just two lions. Now, officials have plans to exchange two other tigers for a pair of Asiatic lions from Gir. “Provided that cubs survive their early days, we will try to exchange an older tiger couple for lions. We are in correspondence with Gir as well as some other zoos for it,” Jangale said.

However, Kishore Rithe, a wildlife conservationist working at the Melghat Tiger Reserve, dismissed the news of the tiger births in SGNP stating that birth of the big cats in captivity doesn’t help in reversing the dwindling tiger population of the country.

“While certain animals like the vultures can be bred in captivity and then re-introduced to the wild, tigers can’t be rehabilitated. As far as conservation of the species is concerned, captive tigers have no future. In fact, when we count the tiger population in India, we don’t even include captive tigers in it.”


Monday, November 10, 2008

Science in the wild

Mihir Srivastava
November 7, 2008

Forensic science is being used to crack cases of poaching in Gir National Park

Between February and March 2007, 10 lions were killed by poachers in three different incidents at the Gir National Park (GNP) which houses 360 Asiatic lions, the only surviving population in the wild.

Eighteen months later, 30 tribals belonging to the Baheliya tribe were found guilty by a local court in Junagadh and sentenced to three years imprisonment. This is unprecedented in the history of wildlife crime in India on two counts: use of forensics to crack the case and speedy conviction of the accused.

In late March 2007, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi took personal interest in the case and the investigation was handed over from the Forest Department to the CID-crime under Inspector General of Police (IGP) Keshav Kumar.

“We inherited a blind case with no seizure, no eyewitnesses,” says Kumar. Forensics was the only ray of hope. The Modi Government gave him a seven-member team along with a mobile forensic lab.

Gir officials and forensic experts get to work at the scene of the crime

The reconstruction of the site of crime, linking the evidence gathered to the perpetrators of the crime was crucial for solving the case.

Each and every piece of evidence was meticulously collected and sealed. Evidence collected from the scene indicated that the poachers were in the forest along with their families.

At this stage of investigations crucial help came from a Delhi-based NGO, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), which specialises in anti-poaching operations. It provided police with the crucial input about the modus operandi of the Baheliyas, a traditional nomadic poaching tribe.

They dress shabbily as herbal medicinal vendors while travelling to various wildlife centres, never revealing their true identity. Baheliyas go by strange names like Cycle Bhai, Motor Singh and Diesel Singh.

A search operation was ordered and police apprehended a gang of 45 Baheliya women and children, barring two males, in Gujarat. Director of central India operations of WPSI, Nitin Desai says, “My informers helped establish the real identity of the accused. They helped police nab four absconders.”

Even after the arrests, linking them to the crime was difficult. Those arrested feigned ignorance and no recovery of lion parts was made. Here forensic support came handy. The team had recovered lion carcasses, with bones and claws missing, from pits near the Baheliya camping sites.

The accused were subjected to forensic tests, which established that their nails, spears and animal traps carried traces of flesh, blood and hair of the poached lions. The analysis determined the species of the sample as well as the unique DNA fingerprint of one particular animal, whose flesh was found on the equipment. The link was clearly established.

First of its kind

* Forensic science was used to crack the case.
* Narco-analysis was done on a woman and that too in a wildlife case.
* DNA fingerprinting used to link crime, site of crime with the perpetrators of the crime.
* Life insurance policies were recovered from the poachers, hinting at the involvement of bigger players.

To confirm the line of investigation, in a yet another unprecedented move, a narco-analysis test was conducted on one of the accused, a woman. It confirmed the initial findings. Based on the irrefutable evidence, the CID was able to submit a charge-sheet within three months.

The investigation would have gone in vain had the accused secured bail.

“Baheliyas are known to jump bail and they cannot be traced as they are nomads,” says Sudhir Mishra, a Supreme Court lawyer, who was appointed legal consultant for the case by the Gujarat Government.

The accused had bona fide proof of address— ration cards and voter I-cards—but the probe proved they were fake.

Faced with no ground for defence, the accused withdrew their bail application.

Modi with forest and police officials at the site where lions were killed in Gir National Park

The investigations revealed the extent of patronage the tribals get for poaching animals to keep the global trade in wildlife parts going. The supposedly poor tribals had huge life insurance covers.

The police found 18 LIC policies in the name of three of the gang, with Rs 4,50,000 paid as premium for these policies. They were bought from one agent in Madhya Pradesh.

The police is now probing the source of money for these policies. “In this case, wildlife crime was treated at par with any other crime. That made the difference,” says Belinda Wright, executive director, WPSI. Poachers on the endangered list?


74 Lions have died due to open wells in Gir:On Friday two more died

Junagadh, DeshGujarat, 8 November, 2008

74 Asiatic lions have died due to presence of thousands of open wells without parapat in and around Gir Forest area in Gujarat in last couple of years. On Friday morning two more young male Asiatic lions were found dead in an open well near Mitiyana village in Amreli district. As the well was not covered, the lions fell into it and were drowned.

There are more than 6,000 blind wells within a 6 km-radius of the sanctuary’s borders. The number of wells has gone up in the past couple of years. Saurashtra is an arid zone where farmers dig wells for irrigation purposes. But these are the very areas that fall in the lion’s migration path. Lions and leopards usually fall into the blind wells while hunting at night. In pursuit of stray cattle or other prey foraging in the fields or farms on the sanctuary’s periphery, they often fall into these wells and drown before anyone can even spot them. As more land comes under cultivation around the Sanctuary, the number of blind wells are rising, posing a threat to wild cats.

Sadly, except for appealing to the farmers to cover the wells, there is nothing much that the Forest Department can do as their jurisdiction does not cover these revenue areas. All it requires is proper legislation. People in lion migration areas must be forbidden to construct wells. There are more than 150 lions in non-protected areas.

Chief conservator of forest Bharat Pathak has reportedly said that under a joint programme undertaken by the state government in assistance with some NGOs, work was on to cover open wells in and around Gir Forest. Last year, about 4,000 open wells have been covered in the region. In Dhari range during the year 2007-08, a total of 1,023 open wells were covered.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

NRIs to Help Promote Tourism in Gujarat.

Mahesh Trivedi

8 November 2008

AHMEDABAD - With fewer foreign tourists flocking to the Indian state of Gujarat after the July 26 serial bomb blasts here as also the global economic crisis, the desperate state government has sought the help of the four-million-odd non-resident Gujaratis (NRGs) to boost tourism in their homeland.

Officials of the loss-making, state-run Tourism Corporation of Gujarat have begun dashing off letters and colourful brochures to some of the one million NRGs in the US and the 700,000 Gujaratis settled in the UK, requesting them to help organise tours of Gujarat and acquaint their foreigner friends with the rich cultural heritage of the state.

In turn, the Narendra Modi government promises all facilities and ensures safety to the overseas visitors. The novel idea mooted by Tourism Minister J N Vyas is already proving to be successful with the first batch of 17 Britons arriving for a fortnight-long trip earlier this week. The holidayers, including NRGs and people of Indian origin (PIOs), were brought by NRG Hansa Dabhi who runs a vegetarian restaurant and a heritage tour company in Leeds in the UK.

Encouraged by a good response, Dabhi now plans to bring four groups to Gujarat every year and thus help market the ‘coastal progressive state as a global tourist destination’.

“Even if five per cent of the NRGs staying in various countries of the globe spread the word, tourism in Gujarat will get a major boost,” the minister told Khaleej Times, adding that district-level tourism centres were also being set up to guide the birds of passage.

Though 250,000 foreigners had thronged the state last year, travel agents and tour organisers recorded 15 per cent cancellations during the ongoing Diwali vacation.

The tourism department of the Gujarat government, however, claims that an increasing number of foreign tourists has been coming to the state. During 2003-2004 after the post-Godhra communal riots, only 29,000 tourists from across the seven seas visited Gujarat but the figure has now shot up to 250,000. In order to woo more foreigners, the BJP regime has been gradually relaxing its prohibition policy. Gujarat, which boasts the country’s longest — 1600-km — coastline, and ranked 17th in the list of ‘India’s best tourist places’, has improved its position to eighth.

The total number of tourists, both domestic and foreign, was 6.3 million during 2002-2003, but is now 14.2 million.

Foreigners’ favourite places in Gujarat include Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, the Mandvi beach, marvelous temples at Palitana, the Gir lion safari camp, the wild ass sanctuary in Dasada and the Modhera sun temple, the Dholavira Harappan site and the Rann of Kutch.


On the prowl for insights into lions' genetic evolution

[Date: 2008-11-07]
Illustration of this article

An international team of researchers has successfully traced the evolutionary history of the world's lions in unprecedented detail. The researchers' findings published online in the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS), indicate that there are 11 genetic subsets in today's lions that not only distinguish African from Asian populations but also separate genetic strands within the African population.

The subsets, most of which are determined by geographical clusters, include individual ones in Namibia, Kruger National Park (South Africa), Ngorongoro Crater (Tanzania), Kenya, Uganda and the Gir Forest in India as the only Asia subset. In addition, there are two distinct clusters in Botswana and three in Serengeti National Park (Tanzania).

The findings contradict the theory that African lions consist of a single, randomly breeding or so-called 'panmictic' population. The authors of the study, including researchers from Portugal, the UK, Africa and the US, conclude that greater efforts should go into preserving individual populations as opposed to large-scale conservation schemes.

'Understanding the broader aspects of the evolutionary history of the lion has been hindered by a lack of comprehensive sampling and appropriately informative genetic markers,' the authors explain. In an effort to address that shortcoming, they examined the genetic makeup of 357 lions from Africa and Asia.

The scientists also analysed patterns and variations of viruses found in the big cats. 'The unique social ecology of lions and the fact that lions have experienced well-documented infectious disease outbreaks [...] provide a good opportunity to study lion evolutionary history using both host and virus genetic information,' the study reports. 'Indeed, population genetics of transmitted pathogens can accurately reflect the demographic history of their hosts.'

In this regard, the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), a retrovirus analogous to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), was particularly useful because, the authors explain, 'the virus is quite genetically diverse in lions, offering a unique marker for assessing ongoing lion demographic processes.'

According to the analysis, today's population of 50,000 free-ranging lions in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia derive from several habitats in Eastern and Southern Africa in the Pleistocene epoch (about 324,000 to 169,000 years ago). These genetically distinct populations spread into Central and Northern Africa and into Asia during the Late Pleistocene (about 100,000 years ago). Between 14,000 and 7,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene/Holocene transition, the big cats from habitats in the south spread again towards the north and east, so that there was interbreeding between populations.

Yet, the study concludes, 'in spite of the ability of lions to disperse long distances, patterns of genetic diversity suggest substantial population subdivision [...], and reduced gene flow, which, along with large differences in [...] six distinct FIV-Ple subtypes among lion populations, refute the hypothesis that African lions consist of a single panmictic population.'

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Two more lions killed by open well.


Rajkot: Two young male Asiatic Lions were found dead in an open well near Mitiyana village in Amreli district on Friday morning, once again highlighting the danger posed by such wells in and around Gir Forest in Saurashtra to the threatened jungle king's population.

On receiving the news,forest officials from Savarkindla and Dhari range rushed to Mitiyana and found the lions dead in the open well, deputy forest conservator SM Raja. He said primary investigation revealed the lions, which were about four year old, fell accidentally into the well located in the field belonging to Premji Tapu Delwadiya.

As the well was not covered, the lions fell into it and were drowned, the official said, adding that no injury marks were found on the bodies of the animals. Raja said the nails of the two lions were intact, which negated any assumption about it being a poaching. The official said it seemed that the lions did make an attempt to come out of the well but were unsuccessful.

Chief conservator of forest Bharat Pathak said under joint programme under taken by the stat government in assistance with some NGOs, work was on to cover open wells in and around Gir forest. Last year, about 4,000 open wells have been covered in the region.

Source: The Times of Inda, Ahmedabad Saturday November 8, 2008 Page:5.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Lioness, 3 cubs from Gir captured near Vadodara

Vadodara (PTI): A lioness and her three cubs were on Sunday captured from near a village in Gondal area by forest department personnel following a seven-day effort after the animals strayed into human habitat, triggering panic among residents.

"Villagers of Gondal taluka had spotted the animals on October 26. The straying of lions into human habitat had caused panic amongst the people, who avoided going to their fields," Sudeep Kumar Nanda, Gujarat's Additional Chief Secretary of Forest and Environment Ministry, said.

The lions had strayed from Sansagir sanctuary. Following the villagers' plea, teams of forest department from Junagadh, Dhari and Rajkot ranges were dispatched to track down the animals, Nanda said.

The lioness and her cubs were finally trapped in cages at Garnare village, about 200 km from Vadodara.

Nanda said it was first such incident, when a large group of lions had entered human habitation and remained there for such a long time. The animals had preyed on five cattle whose carcasses were found.

The presence of the lions was established by the pugmarks, Bharat Pathak, Conservator, told PTI over phone.

Cages were placed at a number of places. Incidentally, as the lioness had been trapped once earlier and was released with a radio collar around her neck, it was easy to trace her, he said.

However, forest officials refrained from using tranquilisers as the animals could have escaped into the thick vegetation and also due to fears of their drowning in a nearby pound, Nanda said.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

UK tourists acquire a taste for Gujarat.

1 Nov 2008, 0329 hrs IST, TNN

AHMEDABAD: They have had dal-bhat-rotli-shak in Leeds and were tempted to ride a chhakda when in Kathiawad to complete the experience. For this bunch of about 15 tourists from UK, having Gujarati thali back home in Leeds was not enough.

Loyal clients of a Gujarati restaurant run in Leeds, by Hansa Dabhi, a non resident Gujarati, this group got curiouser about Gujarat and came here on a two-week vacation.

Hansa Dabhi has been offering vegetarian Gujarati cuisine for over 20 years and after its success, decided to promote tourism in her homeland under the banner, Hansa Heritage Tourism, with husband Kishor Dabhi.

They connected with state tourism minister Jay Narayan Vyas to make things easier. "Tour promoter asked us to facilitate the tour by easing out bottlenecks, which we did. Unlike Rajasthan, which is a tourist-friendly state, tourism industry is yet to evolve in Gujarat," said Vyas.

"We thought that when this group returns back satisfied, they will spread a good word and credibility can be gained for this sector. It is a small experiment which has proven to be successful," said Vyas.

The group saw only one flaw lack of clean pay-and-use toilets at regular intervals, which Vyas says is an important feedback.

According to Vyas, even if one lakh, out of the about 40 lakh NRGs, staying in UK encourage tourism by word of mouth, it would help boost tourist inflow from 2.5 lakh visitors last year to about 10 lakh.

Hansa says, "These people are my clients, who have been eating Gujarati food at my restaurant for long. So, they jumped at the offer of a tour to Gujarat." The tour which began from Manchester, took the group to many places, including a visit to Gandhi Ashram, dinner at Vishala, a stay at Nilambagh palace in Bhavnagar, Mandvi beach, temples at Palitana, Gir lion safari camp, wild ass sanctuary in Dasada and Modhera sun temple. "We planned the tour with an Anand-based tour operator," says Kishor.


Sealed private hotels rule the roost in Sasan Gir during tourist season.

Parish Joshi Posted: Nov 01, 2008 at 0131 hrs IST

Rajkot, October 31 : A total of Nine hotels in the vicinity of Sasan Gir village, which had been sealed by the Talala Mamlatdar some time ago for not obtaining no-objection certificates (NOC) from the Forest Department, have started functioning again, albeit illegally.

Every year, visitors from far and wide flock to this small village in Junagadh district. The infrastructure to manage tourism here is inadequate with just one functioning Government lodge, Sinh Sadan. In the last few years, however, over 30 private hotels have mushroomed to cash in on the heavy tourist inflow.

“Most of the private hotels that exist in Gir have neither obtained NOCs from the Forest Department nor have they followed any licensing formality. Till date, the authorities had paid a blind eye to this issue. But recently, following orders from the Junagadh District Collector, the Talala Mamlatdar had sealed around nine hotels in the vicinity of Sasan Gir forest.

“All of these sealed hotels had already applied for NOCs long ago, but nothing happened due to the lethargic attitude of the Forest Department. Now, with the tourist season having begun, over 20,000 visitors visit the sanctuary daily and many want to stay back. That’s why most of the sealed hotels have started functioning again,” said Bharat Chuhan, the owner of a small hotel in Sasan Gir.

When contacted, the Talala Mamlatdar, Amiben Doshi said: “The hotels had been sealed as per power given to me by the Collector, when we came to know that they had not obtained Forest Department NOCs. The local police have to check whether the hotels remain sealed or continue operation. Government holidays are on so we have not been able to follow up on this issue.”

The Forest Department, meanwhile, has not taken any interest in the issue. “We are busy managing the heavy traffic of Diwali in the sanctuary and in our interpretation zone, but once this rush recedes, we will look into the matter. As of now, I have not received any file of hotels asking for NOC from us,” said L A Chuhan, the Deputy Conservator of Forest, Sasan Gir.


Junagadh turns into a tourist hotspot during festive season.

Sibte Husain Bukhari Posted: Nov 02, 2008 at 0239 hrs IST

Junagadh, November 1 : Junagadh has become a hotspot for tourists during the holiday season. In the last five days, thousands of tourists from across the state have visited famous tourist sites here, particularly the Somnath Temple, Gir Forests, Girnar Mountains, holiday camp sites at Chorwad and Madhavpur beaches and the Sakkarbaug Zoo among other places. During this festive season, the Railways and the state transport earned remarkable income and transported lakhs of passengers.

Y P Jani, Deputy Station Superintendent, Junagadh Railway station, said: “Since the last five days, the Railways’ income, on an average, has been rupees three lakh per day. Some 30,000 passengers have travelled by train in the last five days.”

The state transport division also reported a similar increase in passenger numbers. A state transport official from the Junagadh bus station said the state transport (ST) recorded a daily passenger base of one lakh. “The ST earned an income of Rs 6 lakh per day at Junagadh during the last five days,” the official said.

V J Rana, Director, Sakkarbaug Zoo, Junagadh, said: “Over 50,000 tourists visited the zoo from October 28 to November 1. The zoo registered an income of Rs five lakh during this period.”

I A Chauhan, Deputy Conservator of Forest, Sasan Gir, said, “Over 10,000 tourists visited the Dewaliya Park and as many as 630 tourist vehicles were given permission to visit deep into the forest on pre-decided routes.” He said the Forest Department registered an income of Rs 10 lakh during the last five days.

The Somnath Temple, which is the most sacred and popular visiting site here, saw over eight lakh visitors during the last five days.

Vishal Shukla, Public Relations Officer, Somnath Temple, said: “The temple door was kept open from 6.30 am to 9.30 pm. Devotees were seen waiting in long queues during the festive season.”

Shukla said all the guest houses and hotels in the vicinity were packed. “There is absolutely no space. Roads leading to the temple were dotted with people. Shopkeepers, particularly those running food stalls, did brisk business,” he said.

Visitor rush has also been reported at various pilgrimage places in and around the Girnar Mountains and the beaches at Chorwad and Madhavpur.


Gujarat forest staff set trap to catch straying lion, cubs

Published: October 28, 2008, 23:32

Ahmedabad: Gujarat forest officers have set a bait to catch a lioness and three of its cubs who have strayed far beyond their natural habitat in the Gir sanctuary, an official said on Monday.

"All the four animals are at a 'safe place' and under continuous observation by our senior officers though they are yet to be caught," chief conservator of forests (Junagadh range) Bharat Pathak said on telephone.

He said the lioness and its cubs were spotted near Gondal, 37km from Rajkot, and two forest department teams had set the bait to lure them back into the jungles. Forest officials are surprised that lions could stray so far out of the Gir forest and reach the outskirts of Gondal, some 150km away.

This movement is a "natural dispersion", said environmentalist Amit Jethava of the Gir Nature Your Club that has been fighting to save Gir lions from poaching.

"It happened in 2001 when a lion pride reached the outskirts of Gondal. I think illegal limestone mining is one of the factors forcing lions out [of the forests]," Jethava said.

Kishore Kotecha, head of the Wildlife Conservation Trust at Rajkot, said lions prefer open grasslands while the Gir forests have become dense with extra tree growth.


Junagadh and Kutch are busiest tourist destinations in Gujarat

By our bureaus
Junagadh/Bhuj, DeshGujarat, 1 November, 2008

Gujarat’s two districts;Junagadh and Kutch are having great tourist rush this Diwali vacation. Presence of domestic and NRI tourists, Tourists from outside the state and foreign tourists is visibly great this time in Junagadh and Kutch districts.

Most of the hotels and guest houses are booked, temples have long queues and taxis are over booked.

Junagadh district located in Gujarat’s Saurashtra area has three major tourist attractions to offer: Somnath Jyotirlinga temple, Sasangir Lion century and Girnar hill.

While Junagadh’s Sakkarbag zoo which is the largest and oldest zoo of Gujarat known for it’s Asiatic Lion expertise had more than 30,000 visitors in five days, Ambaji temple located atop Gujarat’s tallest Girnar hill had 20,00 visitors in a day according to it’s priest Tansukhgiri Maharaj. In Somnath, all residual facilities were booked and long queues were formed for Lord Somnath’s darshan at Aarti time to accommodate extra rush in the evenings. In Sasangir lion century tourists faced shortage of hotel rooms because authorities had recently sealed nine hotels and resorts on licenses issue. Some tourists had to stay in Junagadh to visit Sasan Gir due to unavailability of Hotel room in Sasan Gir proper. Some tourists who wanted to visit Sasan Gir safari also faced one day waiting period.

Another hot and proven tourist destination in Gujarat this Diwali is Kutch district in this Diwali vacation. While Matano Madh had around 40,000 tourists in three days another nearby destination Narayan Sarovar-Koteshwar had more than 20,000 tourists. In Matano Madh, room shortage was felt even after allotting one room to ten visitors on sharing bases. Temporary tourist facilities were immediately created with support from authority at local primary school and Road and Building department’s office to accommodate extra rush.

Major tourist attractions in Kutch include Bhuj, Kalo Dungar, Dholavira Harappan archaeological site, Narayan Sarovar-Koteshwar, Lakhpat fort, Banni, Chhari Dhand, Rann of Kutch, ethnic villages, Jain religious places etc.

Kutch is now worldwide known tourist destination for rural tourism. This year’s Rann festival in Kutch will be organized in December.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Twenty Lion Poachers Imprisoned by Indian Magistrate

JUNAGADH, Gujarat, India, October 28, 2008 (ENS) - Twenty people have been sentenced to three years imprisonment and fined for poaching endangered lions in the Gir Forest and trading in their parts, in a case that has no precedent in the judicial history of wildlife crime in India.

Inspector General of Police Keshav Kumar, who led the investigations, said, "This is the first known case in India in which the lions were hunted for trade."

The Court of P.K. Makuuana, I class magistrate, in Junagadh handed down the jail sentences on Thursday and in addition ordered each defendant to pay a fine of Rs 10,000, about US$200.

Public prosecutor J.M. Sakanpara said, "The accused were arrested for poaching six Asiatic lions from Gir and illegal possession of wildlife articles. Two lion claws were recovered from the main accused Kuntar Singh and Nanaka Singh during their arrest in April last year."

The remaining 18 defendants were arrested based on the information provided by Kuntar and Nanaka Singh. The accused remained in judicial custody throughout the trial, following denial of their bail plea by the High Court.

"The hunting was reportedly carried out on March 3 and March 29 last year. They had disclosed trade in body parts as the motive for hunting," said Sakanpara.

Saurabh Sharma, advocate of the Wildlife Trust of India, who provided legal assistance to the prosecution said, "This is a first-of-a-kind case in which so many people have been convicted at a time in a wildlife case."

"Even the duration of the trial was relatively expeditious for a wildlife case," said Sharma. "Within 18 months of the crime, the accused have been brought to justice."

Wildlife Trust of India Vice Chairman Ashok Kumar congratulated the authorities on the arrest and conviction of the defendants, saying, "This is a historic moment for all wildlife conservationists."

The Asiatic lion, Panthera leo persica, once ranged throughout the coastal forests of northern Africa and from northern Greece across southwest Asia to eastern India. Today, the only living representatives of these lions occur in and around the Gir Forest.

The unique lions are threatened by poaching for bones, used in traditional Chinese medicine, and claws, used as amulets. Death from electrocution and from being trapped in open wells is also common, says Kumar.

Gir Forest is one of the largest compact tracts of dry deciduous forests in the semi-arid western part of India. Apart from being the only home of the last surviving natural gene pool of the Asiatic lion, it is the catchment area for seven major rivers and provides ecological security and water for the drought prone region of Saurashtra.

The Gujarat Forest Department explains that conservation measures like launching of the Gir Lion Sanctuary Project in the early 1970s, suspending logging operations and declaring the core area to be a national park, resettlement of maldharis families of nomadic herdsmen and the shifting of their livestock, and the payment of compensation in cases of livestock killing and human death by carnivores have had a "positive impact on the ecosystem."

The forest department has also established check posts, introduced a wireless communication network, and deployed vehicles and weapons to control the movement of people and livestock in the protected area.

Still, the Asiatic lions are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

"The Gir population is insecure for two reasons," A.J.T. Johnsingh, a wildlife expert with the Nature Conservation Foundation in Mysore told the "Deccan Herald" newspaper in September. "Firstly, "the population has risen from a very low number leading to inbreeding and a genetically homozygous population. Reduced genetic diversity affects reproductive health of the species and increases mortality of the young."

Secondly, "an epidemic could wipe out the population," Johnsingh said.

On an average, 25 to 30 lion deaths have been reported every year for the past three years, yet the lion population in the Gir Forest is beyond the protected area's carrying capacity, wildlife experts say.

A survey conducted in 2005 estimated a population of 359 lions in and around the forest. By comparison a 1990 census counted some 221 adult lions living within the protected area, with 30 to 40 other lions living outside.

Since 2002, wildlife scientist Y.V. Jhala has radio collared 18 lions, to track their movement. "Radio collaring has shown," he told the newspaper, "lions have set up meta-populations outside Gir for want of space, or food."

Today, farmers grow mango, groundnuts and sugarcane adjacent to the Gir Forest, increasing land values and depleting groundwater and putting more pressure on the lion population.

In response to the movement of lions beyond the protected area, the Gujarat Forest Department is working to widen its protective circle. "Biotic pressures in the form of grazing, collection of other forest produce, vehicular traffic, tourism and pilgrims etc. are very high and require additional efforts in order conserve the biodiversity for posterity," the forest department says on its website.

Now, the Central Zoo Authority and the National Tiger Conservation Authority have prepared a breeding plan to strengthen the lion population. Pure-bred first generation Asiatic lions will be selected from different zoos to breed in a large natural enclosure at Kuno.

Herbivores will be supplied as prey so that second generation lions can develop hunting skills. Wildlife experts believe that the third generation lions will be fit to survive in the wild.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.


King’s family goes astray from pride land

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Parish Joshi
Posted: Oct 28, 2008 at 0439 hrs IST
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Rajkot, October 27 Villagers near Gondal town spot lion, lioness and two cubs

A pride of lions, including two cubs, has come out of their natural habitat in the Gir Forests and reached the outskirts of Gondal town in Rajkot, some 150 kilometres away. A few years ago, one lion had reached the Kotda Sangani village after crossing several grasslands.

The news of the transit of the big cats from the forests to a human habitation has now raised the eyebrows of environmentalists.

Rajkot Deputy Conservator of Forest G.S.Wadi said the villagers of Panchyavadar informed them that some wild animal had killed cow and a calf at two different places near Gondal town. “First we thought it must be a leopard or a hyena, but when our forest team reached the scene, it was confirmed that this was the handiwork of a lion pride. Some villagers also confirmed that they saw a lioness and two cubs near their fields. From the pugmarks, our team has confirmed a lion, a lioness and two cubs."

Conservator of Forest Bharat Pathak said: “After we were informed by the team of the Rajkot DFO, we sent in two teams, one from Junagadh and one from Dhari, to catch the pride. Till Sunday night, our teams were following the lions. We will catch them soon. We are assuming that this pride must have come from the Dhari-north side forest.” “A week earlier, we had received information that this pride was located somewhere near the Bhesan area. Our teams have set two cages near the Gondal town on the Jamkandorna Road. Until now, the animals have not attacked any humans; just made two-three kills in the vicinity of Gondal,” Pathak added.

Incidentally, after news spread that a pride of lions has come into the area, people started gathering enthusiastically in a bid to see the big cats, which is now causing inconvenience to the foresters to sight and catch them.


Lions regaining lost territory, getting closer to city.

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.


Matchbox did poachers in

26 Oct 2008, 0026 hrs IST, TNN

Ahmedabad: It was a matchbox found from the scene of crime that led to the arrest of 20 accused involved in poaching of Asiatic lions. About eight lions were poached in Junagadh and Bhavnagar district in March and April last year. Talking to reporters, investigating officer and inspector general of police Keshav Kumar and principal chief conservator of forest Pradeep Khanna said during probe, police officials found a matchbox from the crime spot.

Detailed investigation revealed that this brand of match was available only in Madhya Pradesh. The Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) authorities were contacted and it was found that the accused belonged to Behaliya tribe from Madhya Pradesh. Based on information and discription given by WPSI, a combing operation was launched and the culprits were caught. During interrogation, a fresh claw of lion was found from their possession. When they were further grilled, a shirt was recovered which had stains of blood on it. The Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) confirmed that it was lion blood.

Further, when the hands of the accused were washed, some blood in their nails was also traced. Analysis revealed that this was also blood of Asiatic lions. FSL director JM Vyas said the spear which was found from them also had lion blood. He added that the modus operandi was simple a trap was laid and once the animal fell into it, a spear with methyl parathion was inserted in its mouth, killing the lion. The bones were then taken away and sold in the international market. Kumar further said that the bones of lion and tiger were similar and hence they were not easily distinguishable. With no tigers around, lion bones were sold in the market.

Bones of one lion was estimated to be around Rs 50 lakh in the international market. Khanna said that apart from taking other measures like procuring latest equipment, the forest department had also organised women sabhas which had helped it to get feedback from people and also entailed peoples participation. He said there were two convictions in less then 15 days.

After going through the judgment, the officials would take a legal opinion and appeal for enhancing the sentence, which was just three years, he pointed out. BOX Prabhakar is lynchpin of trafficking racket Notorious poacher from Karnataka Prabhakar Keshav Gajakosh (50), who was sentenced to three years imprisonment by a Junagadh court, along with 19 others, for his involvement in the killing of seven Gir lions, is a lynchpin of an international network of wildlife traffickers. Closely linked with Sansar Chand, the notorious Madhya Pradesh poacher, Prabhakar was on the run since 2000. He had been evading arrest in several cases, including one related to the laying of a jaw-trap for capturing a royal Bengal tiger in Nagarahole National Park. Prabhakar was picked up from his Haliyal residence in Uttara Kannada district on December 13, 2007. The Karnataka CID forest cell and Gujarat police also recovered skins of a tiger, 21 leopards and 43 otters from his place. Besides, several passports were recovered from him.


Friday, October 24, 2008

20 jailed for three years for killing Gir lions

Bombay News.Net
Thursday 23rd October, 2008 (IANS)

A court in this Gujarat city Thursday sentenced 20 people, including nine women, to three years in jail for killing six lions in the nearby Gir National Park - the biggest case of poaching in recent history in the sole home of Asiatic lions.

The Seventh Court of Judge P.D. Makwana found the 20 accused guilty of killing six lions - three each on March 3 and March 30 last year - and sentenced them to three-year jail terms. The court also imposed a fine of Rs.10,000 on each of them.

Twenty-one people, originally from Panna in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, were arrested from Una village, 180 km from here, on April 6, 2007 after the carcasses of the six lions were found with various parts removed. One of the accused, a woman, died later.

Authorities said the case was unprecedented in India's judicial history, since this was the first case to come to light involving lions in wildlife trade.

Keshav Kumar, inspector general police (IGP) who led the investigation, said: 'This is the first known case in India in which lions were hunted for trade.'

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which was entrusted the probe, found the gang used to trap lions and kill them to retrieve body parts that could be sold in illegal markets for high profits.

According to public prosecutor J.M. Sakanpara, two lion claws were recovered from the main accused, Kuntar Singh and Nanaka Singh, during their arrest.

The remaining accused were arrested based on the information provided by Kuntar and Nanaka. All of them remained in judicial custody throughout the trial, as the Gujarat High Court denied bail to them.

'The trial was relatively fast for a wildlife case, which was completed within 18 months of the crime,' advocate Saurabh Sharma of the NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), who assisted the prosecution, said in a statement in New Delhi.

The Gir forest in Saurashtra region of Gujarat is the only place in India where the 'critically endangered' Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) are found. A survey conducted in 2005 estimated the presence of 359 lions there.

Lions are poached for bones that are used in traditional Chinese medicines, and its claws are used as amulets, WTI vice-chairman Ashok Kumar said.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Cowatch: Wildlife journalist

By Bittu Sahgal

I was disgusted, ashamed to be human... I swore
I would protect the tiger for as long as I lived

Prerna Bindra is the quintessential woman in a man’s world. A dogged wildlife journalist, she was presented with the Sanctuary-ABN AMRO Wildlife Service Award in 2007 for her contribution to the protection of wild animals, including the tiger. Born in Ahmedabad, her father was part of the Indian Police Service and her mother, a teacher. They gifted her with an ethical streak that has stood her in good stead all her life. She speaks to Bittu Sahgal about her passion for wildlife and her frustration with a system that seems unwilling to protect the natural heritage she holds so close to her heart.

A personal one. You have chosen to remain single. Is that because of the nature of your job as a journalist on the move?
It’s a difficult one to answer. It takes a fine man to understand my concerns, passion and imperatives, particularly my need to travel to remote places at the drop of a hat, or the smell of a story. However, this just accentuates my need for roots, an anchor. So, the day I find him, the status might change!

Has being a woman been a disadvantage in a man’s arena?
To a certain extent. A woman has to work harder to be taken seriously by men (journalists and wildlifers) who are uncomfortable with independent-minded women. But consistent and determined purpose tends to sort out this problem. Then there is that other handicap - I do not fear wild animals, but meeting the wrong kind of people when I am out alone sometimes does scare me. And with good reason... I know this from bitter personal experience. Let’s leave it at that.

Let’s leave that, though I wish this was a nicer world. What got you involved with wildlife?
I wish I knew. As a kid, I would doctor birds and small animals and gained a reputation (mistakenly or otherwise!) as an ‘animal doctor’. It might have been the lion I saw when I was nine years old. This was in Gir, and its majesty and power still live with me. Much later, when I saw a photograph of a royal Bengal tiger - alive, belly side up, trussed up and spread-eagled, four legs tied to the bars of its iron cage, waiting to be disembodied by men who stood by, laughing, it tipped the balance in my head.

So it was anger that got you hooked?
I was disgusted; ashamed to be human. I swore I would protect the tiger for as long as I lived.

And now it is love that draws you?
Some might describe it as love, but I am just instinctively protective of wild animals. I think humans do them far too much wrong, with deadly persistence. I believe from my soul that they have as much right to live in dignity as any human being does. They were born free. They should live free. It is to this proposition that my entire life is devoted.

Shall we shift focus? You must have had dozens of unforgettable wildlife experiences?
Yes. Luckily for me, literally too many to narrate, and none of them life-threatening. In fact, I marvel at the fiction that shikar writers so unashamedly infuse into their stories. I walk unarmed in forests with the faith that if you know and respect the jungle, you are safer here than you are in any big city. You must respect the comfort zone of animals and not invade their personal space. Having said this, I have indeed witnessed mock charges by both elephants and, very recently in Kaziranga, a mating rhino! But I am here
and telling the tale, so obviously they never really intended to do me any harm.

If you don’t know your wildlife, you could die walking in an Indian jungle.
I could not agree more. I remember, when I was around 15 years old, I instinctively picked up a snake that was being beaten to death. I put it in a bag and took it to a forest officer who nearly had a cardiac arrest. It was a cobra. In that instance, ignorance was bliss! Down the years, I have had my share of scares, which include almost falling off a panicky elephant right next to a mating pair of tigers and walking back to camp in the dark and hearing the sawing sound of a leopard much too close for comfort. But it is this Bittu, these experiences that make it all so worthwhile, that I live for.

What in your view is the role of a wildlife journalist - to report events or to affect the course of events?
Wildlife journalists are themselves an endangered lot. This is because media today has next to no column space (nor the budget) for serious, in-depth wildlife reports. Speaking for myself, I want to affect the course of events and not just report fait accomplish. We have access to information before it becomes public and often, how you use that information determines whether you stop environmental crime or merely report it. Having said this, environmental reporting requires much more accuracy and homework than regular journalism. Misinterpreting or even poor reporting can do more harm than good. The pen - and in today’s age - the camera as well, are hardcore conservation tools and journalists must use them to engage people, influence public opinion, and expose crooks who are often policy makers.

Who are your heroes? Who has influenced you most?
Apart from my mother, who taught me to do my best and never give up, it was through James Herriot’s books that I grew to love dogs and other animals. I realised then, the power of words, and that one must write from the heart. Gerald Durrell, F W Champion, EHA, Ashok Kumar, who nurtured my interest in wildlife, PK Sen, Valmik Thapar, Mike Pandey, Belinda Wright… so many heroes. Also those brave forest officers (yes, there are some) who work within a killing system. And forest guards who work in abysmal conditions, and against all odds.

Have the people you have written about ever directed any aggression at you?
That is par for the course for any journalist. When I broke the story on the ivory trade in Gujarat, believe me, the traders involved were less than polite. Ditto with the bird traders who gheraoed (surrounded) me when I next visited the bird market. Then there were the people at Jama Masjid, Delhi who had two or three tame blackbucks. Once, I saw the rough side of American officialdom when I wrote that you could gift a tiger to your macho boyfriend or hunt a tiger in the backwoods of Texas in the United States.

Any regrets?
Loads. The blackbucks I mentioned earlier? Neither the police nor the forest officials acted in time, everyone kept telling me about the potential communal backlash. And in the meanwhile, to get rid of the evidence, the animals were reportedly killed and dumped. All I could think of were the blackbucks, and the fact that it was my story that killed them. I regret not being able to impress upon a retinue of editors that reporting on wildlife issues is of national importance. I regret vital stories still waiting to see the light of day; of not keeping a dairy of all my travels. Also that as a journalist, I have been unable to fight the fact that the people of my country are so fixated on their television sets and cell phones that they are not even aware that their natural treasures are being destroyed.

Bittu Sahgal is Editor
Sanctuary Magazine

Sanctuary Features
146, Pragati Industrial Estate,
N.M. Joshi Marg
Lower Parel, Mumbai 400 011
Tel: 022 23016848/49
Fax: 022 23074102


Gir reopens for tourists.

Gujarat Global News Network, Junagadh

After a four month long monsoon period the world famous Gir sanctuary, the only abode of Asiatic lions, will reopen for tourists from Thursday. Every year the sanctuary is closed during monsoon.

There are more than 350 lions in the sanctuary and the state government has taken up a project for the protection of the lions. During the last year there were more than a dozen cases of poaching of the lions and the government set up a wild life crime cell.

Two days back three persons accused of poaching five lions persons were awarded three year sentence by the Dhari court. The main accused Durlabhji Vadodariya had put electric wiring around his farm to save his crop. A group of five lions was electrocuted when they passed from there.


Three yrs rigorous imprisonment and fine for electrocuting five lions

Sibte Husain Bukhari
Posted: Oct 15, 2008 at 0249 hrs IST

Junagarh, October 14 Five lions were electrocuted on the outskirts of Prempara village on October 19, 2007

The Dhari town Judicial Magistrate (First Class) court has sentenced the prime accused in the electrocution case of five lions, to three years rigorous imprisonment and levied a fine of Rs 30,350.

Two co-accused, have been fined while the time spent by them in judicial custody before they obtained bail, have been considered as their punishment. The fourth accused has been released as no evidence was found against him.

According to the details of the case, five lions were electrocuted on the outskirts of Prempara village near Dhari town on October 19, 2007. The Incident occurred at a stone’s throw away from the Gir East headquarters.

In a bid to save his standing crop, prime accused Durlabhji Vadodariya had passed electricity through the wired fencing surrounding his field. A group of five lions came in contact with the live wire fencing and were killed instantly. In a bid to destroy evidence, Vadodariya then buried the carcasses in his fields with the help of his son Purushottam Vadodariya and two others, namely a tractor owner and a tractor driver.

The Forest Department intensified its search when they found that five lions were missing and arrested four people for their involvement in the killing of the big cats.

The four were booked under various provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. At that time, in charge, Deputy Conservator of Forest (Gir East) J S Solanki and his team had busted the case and submitted the same in the JMFC court and monitored it till the judgment was delivered on Monday.

Solanki, said: "Yet, they have not received a copy of the judgment. But further action will be decided upon receipt of the same."

According to primary details of the judgment, Purushottam and the tractor driver have been fined Rs 250 and 150 respectively, while the period they passed in jail during their judicial custody have been considered as the punishment period. The tractor driver has been set free. The JMFC court delivered the 150-page verdict within a year of the incident. The trial was on for 11 months.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Wildlife awareness lecture held

Express News Service Posted: Oct 11, 2008 at 0355 hrs IST

Ludhiana, October 10 Cape-India today organised wildlife awareness lecture and exhibition at Government High School, Salem Tabri. The programme was hosted by Dr Babita Jain, a state awardee. Various posters and banners related to wildlife were displayed on the occasion.

The lectures on lions, tigers, deer, global warming and punishment for wildlife crimes were listened to with great interest by the students as well as the teachers. The key-note speaker, Dr Sandeep K. Jain, Chief Coordinator, CAPE-India and Hony Wildlife Warden, said that Asiatic lions had become extinct from whole of Asia except India and that too in Gir forests (Gujarat).

It was interesting to note that children were aware of the punishment for hunting of wild animals, thanks to the much publicised Salman Khan case. But most of the participants were not aware of punishment which entailed teasing the wild animals in zoos, which is Imprisonment for six months or fine of Rs 2,000 or both. Sunurinder Kaur, Principal, Ramesh Kumar, Sukhdev Singh of Ecoclub, Dr Babita Jain also addressed the students and stressed the need to conserve nature and wildlife.

Students were also told about peacocks, deers and the banned animals in circuses/street shows etc and asked to protect the wildlife and its habitat. Surinder Kaur, principal, Ranjit Singh, Varinderpal Singh, Rakesh Jain and Parma Nand Shukla, both animal welfare officers, M.R. Singhal, advisor, CAPE-India, and Anju Jain were present on the occasion.


This Navratri, Forest Dept tells a musical tale of conservation

Shubhlakshmi Shukla Posted: Oct 08, 2008 at 0423 hrs IST

Vadodara, October 07 Sasan Gir Maan Garje Sawaj, Dala Matthe Vanraj. Ache Hariyalu Gujarat. Game, Game Upwan shobe. Chede, Cheda Ugya Jhad. Ache Hariyulu Gujarat…

"In Sasan Gir roars the lion with long mane, this is green Gujarat; where every village flaunts a garden, every corner a tree, this is green Gujarat…" goes the song penned by Natwar Hadau Gujarat Ecological Education Research (GEER) Foundation and District Forest Officer (DFO) C N Patel. It is one of the many songs that have become popular in Junagadh and Bhavnagar districts, this Navratri.

For the first time in Gujarat, the state Forest Department has struck a different chord to spread awareness about the flora and fauna of the state during the ongoing Wildlife Week.

They have distributed more than 100 CDs containing garba songs in all the forest circles in the state and even a few garba organisers in Gandhinagar.


MP wants lion's share of Gujarat's pride

Tuesday,7 October 2008 15:47 hrs IST

New Delhi: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan Tuesday demanded the Centre to act on its plan to shift a part of the lions' population from the Gir forests to his state, a move which is being fiercely opposed by the parent state which says the animal is its pride and gives a distinctive edge to its tourism.

His demand may rekindle the controversy over the translocation of Asiatic lions from Gujarat.

''We have made all the preparations for receiving the guests, but, they seem nowhere to be coming. The Centre should do something,'' Mr Chauhan said interacting with UNI journalists at the news agency's headquarters here.

Gir Forests in Gujarat are the only place in the world where the Asiatic lion is presently found. Experts have been saying the forests were overpopulated with the lions, so it would be in the interest of the animals' survival, if they were distributed to another habitat.

A Centrally-sponsored Rs 640 crore project had been proposed in 1996 to translocate the lions over two decades to the 344 sq km Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in MP's Sheopur district. But, the Gujarat government's resistance to share its proud possession have thwarted these plans so far.

The MP Chief Minister said it has pained him to see that all efforts and money on making the sanctuary suitablle for the Gir lions was going waste.

Asked whether he was in talks with the Gujarat government over the issue, Mr Chauhan said he would address his demand to the Centre instead, as it was a central project.

The April 2005 census recorded the lion-count in Gir at 359, an increase of 32 compared to 2001.

Despite strong protection machinery being in place in the Gir Forest, poaching of the animals had been taking place. The lions had also been poisoned for attacking livestock. Other threats haunting the animals were fires, floods, epidemics and natural disasters.

But, the Gujarat government had been asserting that Gir forests were quite safe for the lions and rather may not find the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary suitable, he underlined.

He said the sanctuary in his state was absolutely fit and ready to sustain the Asiatic lions.

The Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1965 in an area of 1412 km², located about 65 km to the south-east of Junagadh city of Junagadh district in the kathiawar peninsula of Gujarat.

The then Nawab of the princely Junagadh state had declared the forest area of Gir and its lions as "protected" in the early 1900s, an initiative that assisted in the conservation of the lions whose population had gone down to only 15 due to trophy hunting.

Sometime back, Uttar Pradesh had also made a move to get some big cats from the Gir Forests, but in vain.

Mulayam Singh Yadav, the erstwhile Chief Minister of the state, had envisaged development of a lion safari on a huge tract of land in the forest area of his home district Etawah.

Owning to the change of guard last year, the project, however, was almost put in the cold storage.

One of the difficulties was getting lions from the Gir forests, officials of the state say.


Gir is lion of all sanctuaries

5 Oct 2008, 0623 hrs IST,TNN

Ahmedabad: Of four national parks and 22 sanctuaries in Gujarat, Gir in Junagadh and Nal Sarovar in Ahmedabad district top the popularity charts among visitors. The state tourism department seems to have failed to market sanctuaries in other parts.

According to official data, Gir Asiatic lion forest reserve alone has attracted 66 per cent of tourists in Gujarat and over 80 per cent of total foreign tourists visiting the state. Officials said that if the data of Nal Sarovar and Thol bird sanctuaries and Gir are put together, other sanctuaries in the state have just attracted seven per cent of the domestic tourists visiting Gujarat for wildlife tourism.

Forest officials say that the only reason why there are not many visitors at other sanctuaries is lack of infrastructure and not many people are aware that these exist.

Besides, the Devalia interpretation zone for Asiatic Lions and Sasan Gir fall in the pilgrim circuit of Somnath and Diu, for those wishing a boozing break. Officials also say that Sasan Gir is a hot favourite among Amdavadis. "Rest of the sanctuaries are isolated and it is only nature lovers from the state who visit these sanctuaries."

Bharat Pathak conservator of forests (Junagadh) says, "A detailed analysis is required. But the immediate reasons are the popularity and good infrastructure in Sasan Gir. The other attractions are also the large variety of birds found here.'


Call of the big cat


Asia’s last population of free-ranging lions is confined to the Gir forests in Gujarat. Will they get a second home?

Space to grow: The concentration of lions in one sanctuary makes them more vulnerable in the event of a catastrophe.

Peering through my binoculars, the Indian Pitta was mesmerizing. But I was not to be sidetracked as I was all eager-eyes for the Lion King. The plan was to capture on camera one of the rarest carnivores in its last wild habitat, the Asiatic lion.

It was the month of June and the weather had withered much of the vegetation and the forest was tinder dry. Locating the free roaming lions in a territory of 1,400 sq km is a near impossible task. The sanctuary was to be closed for the ensuing rainy season and I was all the more keen not to miss meeting the lions in their own den. But they are not easy to encounter. The 300-odd lions are restless, ranging far beyond the official boundaries of the sanctuary. It was a problem of plenty in one little tight spot.
Lucky strike

I was, however, fortunate to sight a magnificent male with battle marks on his face on the very first trip. My first wild date with a powerful male was certainly not prosaic, as the reclining lion suddenly got up as if he remembered something and walked off with regal strides into the thickets of the jungle. I was exhilarated by my first encounter with a wild lion but immediately pondered how, when the British ruled India, lions were found roaming the forests around Delhi. Both lions and human beings evolved together over thousands of years, never intruding into each others’ area. Even if they did, they showed restraint as they saw no danger in such close encounters. Of all the big cats, the lions were the most tolerant to human beings.

But opponents and supporters of affirmative action cannot seem to arrive at a plan for the languishing Asiatic lion in its last lap of battle for survival. Slotted as "critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Asiatic lion seems stuck in the designated GIR sanctuary. In reality they have spilled throughout the porous Gir national park and spread over the vast terrain of the arid Saurastra in Gujarat. They want to reclaim the lost land, say some scientists while others vehemently oppose, saying they are dispersing because the capacity of Gir is over saturated.

“It was once the most visible and widespread big cats in the Indian subcontinent but today the lion is cornered and ‘confined’ in a little location. What a sad fate for the king of beasts that is considered to be the most handsome of all the five big Indian cats… while the sleek looking Cheetah has lost the race to survive in India. The tiger has its back to the wall, the snow leopard is just barely surviving in its snowy Himalayan abode and the leopard is much maligned in scattered pockets. All this is happening owing to heavy assaults on the habitats of big cats which is depleting fast due to ingress of massive human activities,” says B.C. Choudhry, a senior scientist with vast experience of over 30 years in handling vital conservation issues. He works with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehradun. Although designated a Sanctuary and a National Park, three highways and smaller roads crisscross Gir. So does a railway line, which scuttles at least six trains through the park each day. Temples within the sanctuary is another bane which draws thousands of pilgrims each year ‘trampling the tranquility’ of the environment. If that is not enough the parched lion habitat is a major fire risk that can literally stew the lions. With the entire wild population of Asiatic lions restricted to just one area, that population is highly susceptible to any kind of biological or man-made catastrophe. A major disaster can decimate the entire subspecies at a stroke. Comprehending the necessity of providing the Asiatic lion with an alternate home has become imperative, exclaim wildlife enthusiasts across the world.

With prudence, the Wildlife Institute of India has zeroed on the Kuno-Palpur Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh to be the second home of the Asiatic Lion. It has been nurtured for almost 10 years and nearly 15 crores have been spent to prepare the sanctuary. But successive Gujarat governments have successfully opposed the move, in spite of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) and other Wildlife NGOs supporting the translocation.

“The recent airlifting of two tigers from Ranthambore National Park to Sariska National Park has given greater impetus to the translocation of big cats. It is not a very complicated task and they are capable of withstanding some amount of stress and strain. In the African jungles wild lions are regularly transported and resettled to different locations as per the prevailing wildlife conservation methods and the success rate is very high. Moreover it is not the first time big animals have been translocated in India. The one horned rhinoceros, despite opposition, was translocated in 1984 from the jungles of Assam to Dudhwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh. Today they are thriving and a valuable lesson has been learnt,” explains Y.V. Jhala a wildlife scientist with the WII who is presently researching the Asiatic lions in the wild.

Patience is a prudent virtue but endurance is not forever and so the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and the Madhya Pradesh Government have come forward to initiate the off-exhibit conservation breeding programme for the Asiatic lions at Kuno Sanctuary from the zoos located in Delhi and Hyderabad. “The chosen lions and lionesses have been tested for their genetic purity at the Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES) of Centre Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad. Thereafter the MOU will be signed and it will be a privilege for the lions to be moved to an off-exhibit conservation breeding centre in the Kuno Sanctuary. Hopefully the third generation will begin their journey as free roaming lions in the so called second home in Madhya Pradesh,” clarifies Dr. B.K. Gupta of CZA, Delhi.
Increasing the chances

“India will be disgraced in all forums of Wildlife Conservation and Natural History Conventions if we cannot save Asia’s last population of free-ranging lions. There is no need for Gujarat government to part with the ownership of the Gir lions but they merely have to provide a small pride of lions as a long-term loan to be translocated. That’s all that is required and this sagacious conservation action will reap rich harvests as Gujarat’s magnanimous action will not only improve the conservation prospects for the lions in Gir but is also likely to result in another set of free-ranging lions in far off Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh,” declares Ravi Chellam, Director and Senior Fellow of ATREE (Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment) in Bengaluru. He is one of the few who has trekked and observed the lions for four years and understands well their ecology and behaviour in the Gir forest.

Dr.Chellam goes on to add, “it’s like a life insurance policy; we do not take an insurance policy expecting to die but we do so to protect against unexpected events. Similarly a second home will provide protection against extinction for the free-ranging lions, which is an integral part of India’s unique and diverse natural heritage.”