Saturday, August 30, 2008

Carcass of lion found in Mobh dam, 45 rabbits die in public park; poisoning suspected, Three injured in Gir in separate attacks.

Sibte Husain Bukhari
Posted online: Saturday , August 30, 2008 at 01:54:57

Junagadh, August 29 Carcass of a lion, aged about nine years, was found floating in the Mobh dam on Thursday. The dam is located near Khambha town, under Tulshishyam range of Gir east forest division. Deputy Conservator of Forest (Gir east) J S Solanki said, “The carcass was found floating in the dam in a highly decomposed state. The animal may have died about three days ago. A panel of veterinary doctors conducted autopsy on the spot. The exact cause of the death could not be ascertained immediately. Viscera of the animal has been sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory, Junagadh, for further examination.” Solanki ruled out any foul play in the incident.

45 rabbits die in public park; poisoning suspected
AS MANY as 45 rabbits were found dead in a public park managed by the nagarpalika in Una, Junagadh, on Thursday.
Chief Officer, Una Nagarpalika, Hitendra Kshotriya, said: “The post-mortem on the bodies has been carried out by the government veterinary officer. Viscera of the animals has been sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory. The exact cause of the deaths could be ascertained only after we receive the FSL report.”
Sources, meanwhile, said that the night watchman was not present when the incident occurred. Besides, the cage was unlocked and the lock was found lying about 20 feet from the cage. “Someone may have intentionally killed the rabbits by giving them poisonous food,” a source said.
The incident has shocked the wildlife lovers here. According to forest sources, the white rabbit is a hybrid exotic species included in the non-scheduled category animal. No permission from the Forest department is required to keep it caged.

Three injured in Gir in separate attacks
A lion, a leopard and a blue bull are likely accused
THREE persons were injured in separate incidents of animal attack in the revenue area outside the Gir forest on Wednesday.
According to reports, a lion attacked an old man near Savarkundala town, while a leopard attacked a woman near Khambha town. A blue bull attacked another woman injuring her seriously.
Bachubhai Delwadiya (70), a resident of Mitiyala village, was attacked by a lion in an oil-seed cultivated field. On hearing his shouts for help, villagers rushed and rescued him from the big cat. Delwadiya received injuries on his head, chest, back and hand. He was rushed to Savarkundala town and later shifted to the Amreli Civil Hospital for further treatment.
In the second incident, occurred on the outskirts of Hadhiyali village near Khambha town, a leopard attacked 60-year-old Meenaben Vaghela when she was sleeping in her hut with two grandsons. She too, was rescued by the villagers when she cried for help. She received first-aid at Khambha town and was later shifted to Amreli Civil Hospital.
Hansaben Dalit (35) was attacked by a blue bull in a field on the outskirts of Aankadiya village near Amreli city. She is undergoing treatment at the Amreli Civil Hospital.


Queens of the jungle!

30 Aug 2008, 0314 hrs IST, Rajiv Shah,TNN

GANDHINAGAR: If you are in the Gir forests to watch the Asiatic lion, don’t be surprised to find women forest guards in the woods. It’s another male bastion which has been busted. Gujarat forest department has sought to break the sex barrier, by introducing for the first time a large number of women guards and foresters in the jungles.

Of the 307 forest guards recruited through special camps in districts over the last one year, 51 are women. And out of 180 foresters recruited at four zonal camps held this May in Surat, Junagadh, Vadodara and Gandhinagar as many as 44 are women.

Till these recruitments, there were just two women working in the forests and both were Indian Forest Service (IFS) officers. Anita Karn is posted in Junagadh and Aradhana Sahu in Mehsana.

Fourteen women foresters have been posted in Gir and their boss, Anita Karn, is happy to have them around. “They have been quite useful in gathering information, carrying out raids and talking to womenfolk in the forests,” she told TOI over phone.

Aradhana Sahu added: “Lady forest staffers are proving to be extremely useful in every sector, be it joint forest management, in which involvement of village women is critical, or guiding tourists in the wild and guarding wildlife.”

Forest officials in Gandhinagar say the women were recruited on the basis of their physical fitness and knowledge of neighbouring forest areas. The physical test included long jump, high jump and rock-climbing. “We are happy such a large number of women applied for the jobs and also made it in the end,” said a senior forest official.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Lion that killed boy in Munjiyasar caught.

Posted online: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 at 01:36:22

Junagadh, August 26 Forest officials on Tuesday caught the lion that had killed an eight-year-old boy on the outskirts of Munjiyasar village near Khambha town on Monday. The nearly six-year-old big cat has been sent to the Jashadhar Animal Care Centre.
After the boy’s death, the foresters had swung into action and located the animal in the millet fields in the outskirts of Trakuda village adjoining Munjiyasar the same day. The lion was trapped the next morning without using any means of chemical immobilisation, officials said.

Deputy Conservator of Forest (Gir) J S Solanki, who monitored the entire operation, said, “A ring cage with live bait was placed near the millet fields. Soon after mid-night, the lion came out and entered the cage.” “The lion was identified by its pugmarks. It is the same big cat that killed the boy,” he added.

Solanki said the animal will be kept under observation for a couple of days or more. After obtaining permission from the higher authorities, the lion might be released into the interiors of the Gir forest.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lion's share.

20/08/2008 12:00:00 AM

Africa's lions are in serious trouble, and nowhere near as common as many wildlife documentaries might suggest, says Australian zoologist Dr Luke Hunter.
''Part of the problem is they're relatively easy for tourists to see in the big game parks like Serengeti or the Masai Mara, but the reality is they've actually disappeared from around 80 per cent of their original range across the African continent.

''They're so familiar to us they're in just about every zoo around the world that we don't tend to think of them as a species needing a very serious conservation effort.''

Hunter recently conducted the first comprehensive analysis of the conservation needs of Africa's carnivores (including hyenas and Cape hunting dogs), which involved mapping changes in the territorial ranges of lions over the past 150 years. It revealed lions are now restricted to about 20 per cent of their former distribution.

His survey results also suggest there are only six regional populations (in Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia, South Africa and Mozambique) with at least 1000 adult animals. Previously published population estimates of Africa's lions put their numbers at anywhere from 16,500 to 47,000, but Hunter says these figures are ''essentially guesses''.

''It's worrying when you consider the lion is probably the most studied big cat in the world, but there are still alarming gaps in our knowledge of lion numbers. There's a lot of catch-up conservation science that needs to be done.''

Hunter is a big cat specialist, studying leopards in South Africa, lions in Uganda, cheetahs in Iran and jaguars in South America. He's briefly back in Australia, on a whistle-stop national lecture tour for Science Week, explaining the conservation challenges involved in protecting the world's 36 species of big cats and their disappearing habitats.

Public interest in the topic has been so intense (yesterday he addressed the Royal Geographic Society of Queensland, today he's in Canberra, at the Australian National University) that Hunter has almost lost his voice, fielding a blizzard of questions after his lectures.

''It's fantastic to see people so engaged with the topic. I'm just getting stuck into the throat lozenges and powering on,'' he says. This evening, Hunter is giving a free public lecture at the ANU on a rare co-operative venture between Iran and the United States a conservation program aimed at saving the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah. It involves Iran's Department of Environment and New York based conservation organisation, Panthera, which has a budget of around $US6million to fund big cat research.

''The cheetahs in Iran are a wonderful example of conservation transcending political differences. The Iranians are very committed to cheetah conservation, and justifiably proud of the large-scale conservation program they've developed. They are doing an incredible job.''

Hunter recently led a science team that successfully fitted radio-tracking collars to the cheetahs, allowing their movements across the arid central Iranian plateau to be tracked for the first time. There are thought to be between 60 and 100 Asiatic cheetahs in Iran, the last surviving remnant of a subspecies once occurring across a vast area stretching from the Red Sea, across Afghanistan, to India.

''The collars will help answer key questions about their ecology and behaviour the size of habitat they require for their home ranges, the routes they take to travel between protected areas, and the features of the landscape they depend on, such as den sites.''

As executive director of Panthera, a New York-based conservation organisation dedicated to conserving the world's big cats and their habitats, he co-ordinates a varied research program across North and South America, Africa, Asia and Russia. Projects include tacking Amur tigers in the Sikhote-Alin mountains in Russia, conservation of Pallas cats in Mongolia, population genetics of Kalahari wild cats, cougar dispersal in Yellowstone National Park and population ecology of African golden cats in Gabon.

For Hunter, travelling the world's conservation trouble spots and working on big cat conservation is the realisation of a childhood dream that began in the sprawling south-eastern Melbourne suburb of Rowville. (Black Sorrows singer and saxophonist Joe Camilleri is probably the only other high-profile former Rowville resident.) ''I was crazy about big cats from about the age of three. Both my parents are teachers, so they encouraged me in that interest, and so I grew up collecting anything I could find about big cats. I used to track down scientists who were studying lions and tigers and write to them, asking all sorts of questions.''

Hunter says his global conservation career is proof that persistence and going the hard yards to get good science pays off. He did his honours zoology thesis at Monash University in Melbourne on the social behaviour of guinea pigs, but the skills he gained in designing research programs propelled him onto bigger things.

''I'm living proof that guinea pigs can take you places,'' he jokes.

''Seriously, learning to do good science and how to ask the right questions, were the most important lessons I learned from the guinea pig research. It opened the door for me to do what I really wanted.''

Hunter won a scholarship to study the behaviour and ecology of cheetahs and lions reintroduced to areas of their former territorial range. A decade later, his research on the impacts of trophy hunting on leopard populations in South Africa resulted in new laws to protect leopards and the establishment of a designated protected area for leopards in Maputaland, in KwaZulu-Natal province.

''Again, it was a question of doing the science to prove that changes were necessary. Quotas for trophy hunting are often assigned on the basis of poor information, and we discovered leopard quotas were being based on information that was way out of date. It was simplistic and it meant leopard populations were being way over-estimated.

''The quotas also allowed female leopards to be shot, which struck me as a mistake in terms of conservation management. It took three years for our team to get the science to demonstrate the impact this was having on leopard numbers, but we did it. If we hadn't done the science, we wouldn't have had the evidence that led to an overhaul of the trophy hunting regulations.''

Trophy hunting is a system which allows tourists to pay a fee to shoot game animals that have been assessed as relatively common. Strict quotas are established, but Hunter argues many of these are not based on scientific surveys.

''I believe there are still problems with trophy hunting of lions. We've got data that shows the impact of shooting male lions has a kind of ripple effect, and speeds up the rate of infanticide of lion cubs. What appears to happen, is that trophy hunting accelerates the natural turnover rate of males in a pride, and that in turn affects the killing of unrelated lion cubs when new males move in and take over the pride.

''Based on this new data that's emerging, there's strong case for either reducing the hunting quotas or limiting the age of the male lions that can be legally shot.''

Dr Luke Hunter will give a free public lecture this evening on Panthera's conservation program to protect Asiatic cheetahs in Iran. Manning Clark lecture theatre 1, 5.30pm.

For more information on big cat conservation:


Hunter by name but big cat survival's his game

Chee Chee Leung
August 14, 2008

Luke Hunter attaches a radio collar to a lion in Uganda, as part of his global conservation efforts.
WITH a name like Luke Hunter, it seems somehow fitting that this Australian scientist would be drawn to the big cats of the wild.

But while he's a Hunter by name, the 39-year-old's career has been devoted to protecting these creatures in their natural environments.

His work has taken him across the globe, and includes studies of tigers in Asia, lions in Africa, and panthers in South America.

Now he has returned to Australia for National Science Week, which begins on Saturday, touring the country to speak about the importance of animal conservation.

Dr Hunter wants to highlight the plight of the big cats, some critically endangered due to threats from habitat loss and hunting. But he also hopes to encourage people to become interested in protecting wildlife generally. "There aren't any big cats here, but there's just as much need for the same kinds of conservation of our native species," he said.

The Melbourne-born scientist's passion for the big cat family began as a three-year-old, and by 12 he was writing to scientists around the world asking for copies of their big cat research papers. Every year as his birthday treat, the family would make the trek from their Rowville home to see the big cats at the Melbourne Zoo.

As a high school student, he did sometimes wonder whether he would be able to translate his passion into a profession. "I grew up on the only continent — apart from Antarctica — that doesn't have big cats … I was thinking, 'How does a kid from Melbourne end up in Africa?' "

But after completing a science degree at Monash University, he won a scholarship to study in South Africa where he spent whole days watching and monitoring lions to see if they could be re-established in the wild. "It was absolutely everything I dreamed about, it was just spectacular."

Now as executive director of the New York-based Panthera Foundation, which focuses on conserving wild cats, his projects include tracking rare Asiatic cheetahs in Iran, developing a conservation plan for the African lion, and assessing the impact of sport hunting on leopards.

Population figures for large cats paint a disturbing picture.

Lion numbers have fallen from more than 100,000 a century ago to fewer than 40,000 today, and cheetah numbers are down to fewer than 15,000. Tigers live in just 7% of their historic range. But Dr Hunter is confident proper planning will ensure the long-term survival of the big cats. "I'm pretty sure if we continue on the tack we're taking now, they're still going to be around for generations to come."


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

First wildlife atlas to be out soon.

Express News Service
Posted online: Monday , August 18, 2008 at 02:30:18

Lucknow, August 17 Do you know what is the most common problem faced by the wild animals? Or how many types of diseases affect elephants? If your answer to these questions is “no”, then you should look up the country’s first wildlife atlas, which is here to provide answers to all your wildlife queries.
Former head scientist of the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), Dr BM Arora, is compiling the atlas - The Atlas of Wildlife Diseases and Disorders in India - and has received financial assistance from the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

Dr Arora has already finished the basic research and the atlas is slated to hit the stands by next month.

Talking to The Indian Express from Bareilly, Dr Arora said that the atlas will not only become a database of all the living wild species in the country, but will also serve as an effective document for the zoo officials, veterinary experts and also, doctors at various wildlife sanctuaries across the country.

“The atlas will also try to look into issues like poaching of wild animals through poisoning,” he added.

Dr Arora has managed to collect over 1,000 photographs of wild animals along with the cases registered under the Wildlife Act. “There are some 1070 cases, which have been collected from UP, Assam, Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and other states, where people have been booked under the Wildlife Act,” Dr Arora said.

The atlas will be printed in Lucknow and Dr Arora plans to release it in New Delhi. “It is the first of its kind comprehensive document and hence, needs to be talked about,” said Dr Arora.


India's first wildlife diseases atlas is ready.

LUCKNOW: The country's first atlas of wildlife diseases, their diagnosis and management is almost ready.

It is being prepared by B.M. Arora, former principal scientist at the Bareilly-based Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI). “The atlas represents and suggests treatments for various wildlife health disorders and infections that have been reported from various parts of the country.”

"Moreover, the atlas, with over 1,000 photographs, also analyses cases of poaching and killings of wild animals by poisoning and other means," Arora said on phone from Bareilly.

The coloured atlas will serve as a guide for zoo officials, veterinarians and those working in wildlife management, he added. "It will help scientists and researchers establish possible causes behind the death of a particular animal."

Called A Coloured Atlas of Wildlife Disease and Disorder, the atlas is being published from Lucknow. The atlas will also act as a reference material for cases registered under wildlife act. It has 1,070 wildlife case studies from Assam, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and other states, Arora said. "It will be available at shops by the end of August," said Arora, who has already written over 24 books on wildlife.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) of Uttar Pradesh Government gave Arora a Rs.200,000 grant to help in his research.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Living with lions.

In Junagarh, Gujarat, the Maldharis are extremely tolerant of lions. But the nomadic community, indigenous to the area, are alienated now. They were comfortable with the lion's ways: now they are unsettled. On the other hand, tiger attacks on humans are not uncommon in Sunderban villages. People here stoically accommodate the Royal Bengal Tiger. But increasing human population is pitting man against beast. East or West, the issue of animal-human conflict is basic to conservation research and practice in India .
July 24, 2007, Amirul Naiya, was attacked by a tiger as he, his brothers and three other fishermen were pulling up their boat into a creek in the dense Sunderbans mangroves, to prepare their dinner. Naiya lay on the deck, bleeding from multiple wounds.

Just three days later, Pratul Naskar, got grabbed by the throat and dragged into the Benipheli forest in the Sunderbans' Kultali area, while hunting for crabs in a creek. His body hasn't been found.

The attack on Naskar was the fifth tiger strike in the Sunderbans in less than a month. Since April 2007, tigers have killed at least nine fisherfolk; 16 times, they have strayed into villages near forests, say the state forest department records.

"An average 16 tiger killings are reported every year, but the actual number is much more," informs Sunderban Biosphere Reserve director Pradip Shukla. Villagers and local wildlife experts say the actual tally is closer to 50. Many killings go unrecorded; often, villagers don't report attacks in restricted forest areas for fear of being fined or having their fishing permits cancelled.

Almost all killings take place in forest areas. In the past decade, only one person has been killed by a straying tiger. "Our data shows there's no prey shortage in the Sunderbans. If it were so, all tigers would be hunting in the forest fringes," says Shukla. But numbers aside, it is clear the human-animal conflict here remains unresolved.

Humans as prey are an aberration, but about 5 per cent of Sunderbans tigers are man-eaters. Their taste for human flesh isn't necessarily because they are old and humans are easy pickings. Perhaps these tigers have never learned to fear humans, given their virtually inaccessible habitat.

Pranabes Sanyal, former field director of Sunderbans Tiger Reserve and a renowned authority on the Royal Bengal Tiger, has another explanation. April and May, when the mangrove plants are in full bloom, is the honey-collecting season in the Sunderbans. But this is also littering season for tigresses; protective mothers often pounce on men near their hideouts. "In most cases they kill the man, but don't eat the body," says Sanyal. "But after repeated killings, when the tiger realizes humans don't have as much resistance as other prey like deer or wild boar, they include humans in their prey base. If a tigress turns man-eater, she will teach her cubs to be the same. That's how you find healthy tigers and tigresses turning man- eaters here."

Currently, much of the tiger strikes occur in the northern and north-western mangrove jungle. This, Sanyal believes, is because most of this area falls within the 1,255 sq km buffer zone of the tiger reserve, where permit holders are allowed to fish and collect forest produce. Every year, about 40,000 people-a population the forest department thinks can extract forest produce in a sustainable manner-enter the forest with permits.

But many more venture in without permits, driven largely by lack of alternative sources of income. "We go knowing our life is in danger, and we can get caught by forest guards, but the stomach doesn't listen to fear," says Kiran Chandra Mondol, a fisherman from Jharkhali village. "In any case you can create a reserve forest for the tiger, but you can't hold the tiger within it. It will go where it wishes."

Good point. In spite of a dense 1,330.12 sq km core mangrove area left inviolate and a sound prey base, Sunderbans tigers also routinely stray into transition zone areas like Kalitala, Kultali and Jharkhali. First, the Sunderbans tiger can't mark out its territory with its urine, as all cats do, because markings get washed away by the tides. So it roams around pretty much unrestricted. And when it spots a village across a waterway, especially those where the embankments have a mangrove buffer, it mistakes it for forest and crosses over. Once past the trees, it finds cattle and livestock, a perfect reason to repeat visits. An increase in human population has led to a corresponding increase in cattle and livestock: today, the allure is greater. Second, a tiger strays due to age, injury or pregnancy, which impairs its ability to hunt. Sanyal says this is "rare", but forest officials and villagers believe it to be a primary reason.

Sanyal cites a third cause-global warming. Rapidly rising sea levels, a combined effect of climate change and subsidence, have increased the salinity of surface water near the coastal mangrove forests on the southern side of the Sunderbans. Kolkata-based oceanographer Sugata Hazra, who's studying change in salinity levels in the region, corroborates this fact through circumstantial evidence like a fall in the population of the freshwater-loving Sundari tree and dwindling freshwater sources. "Though Sunderbans tigers drink saline water, it's now become a little too salty for them," says Sanyal. "Hence the tigers are moving northwards, resulting in a higher density of tiger population in the northern Sunderbans, which, again, are closer to human habitations."
Kirtiman Awasthi, -Down with earth feature


Lion strolls through bazaar!

7 Aug 2008, 0300 hrs IST,AGENCIES

JUNAGADH/AMRELI: The 700-odd residents of Khambha-Borada village in Amreli got the biggest shock of their quiet lives when a lion strolled into their main bazaar on Monday at 5 pm.

Living in lion country, they frequently sight the wild cats outside their village. But, a lion entering a market full of people, sent a chill down the spine of many.

Lions, having moved out of the Gir sanctuary, are getting increasingly bold, say villagers. The cats don’t think twice before straying close to humans.

This was confirmed on Tuesday morning when in neighbouring Junagadh, a pride of four lions, that generally hunt after sundown, killed a buffalo in broad daylight at Chorwadi village of Bhesan taluka.

The 50-odd villagers working in the fields nearby around 9 am watched helplessly as the lions cornered the buffalo and brought it down. They did not seem bothered by the presence of villagers.

Said deputy conservator of forest (DFO), Junagadh, Anita Karne: “Generally, lions hunt late in the evenings or at night, but morning hunts happen once in a while.”

A shocked Chandresh Patel, a resident of Chorwadi, said: “These lions are regular visitors but never have they had the courage to attack cattle in front of people.”

Khamba-Borada, however, has not yet recovered from the shock, especially because the lion stayed in the market for nearly two hours and attacked and injured a youth who tried to chase it away. The lion left only after killing a calf and dragging it off for dinner.

Says Mahesh Rawal, a resident of Khambha-Borada: “If we have to face lions at 5 pm in our bazaar, it is about time the government considered fencing the forest area.”

Sanat Chavan, wildlife expert and former principal chief conservator of forest of Gujarat, says there have been some instances in the past of lions hunting in the day.

“When they don’t get their natural prey, they don’t mind hunting cattle in the day,” he says.


Keeping her tryst with wildlife

Sanctuary Features

Prerna Bindra is the quintessential woman in a mans 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, Prerna Bindra’s 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.

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.

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 accomplis. 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, FW 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 gheroed 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 the Editor of Sanctuary Magazine)


Minor boy killed by lion in Gir

Posted online: Tuesday , August 26, 2008 at 03:48:07

Junagadh, August 25 An eight-year-old boy was killed by a lion in the revenue area outside the Gir east forest division on Monday. This is the first time such an incident has occurred here. Lion attacks on humans in Gir have been far and few.
The incident occurred around 2 am on Monday on the outskirts of Munjiyasar village near Khambha town, some 15 kms from the forest boundary. The area falls under the Tulshishyam forest range. The victim has been identified as Himmat Parmar.

J S Solanki, deputy conservator of forest (Gir east), said: “The victim was guarding goats in a makeshift ranch and had fallen asleep. The animal climbed onto the verandah and instead of preying on the livestock, grabbed Parmar and dragged him to the adjoining fields.”

Solanki said the family members were sleeping in an adjacent room and rushed to the verandah after hearing noises, only to find the boy missing.

He said he rushed to the spot along with a team and began a search operation, but could not locate the boy or the animal. Later, at dawn, the boy’s remains were recovered. He said the animal had consumed a part of the body.

Solanki said the big cat has been identified as a juvenile (six-year-old) and is spotted nearby. Traps have not been laid to capture him, he said.

He said the body has been sent for autopsy and a compensation of Rs one lakh will be paid to the victim’s family.

He further said the case was probably that of mistaken identity.

Some five families of the devipoojak community are residing in a Gauchar (grazing) land on the outskirts of Munjiyasar village and had set up makeshift ranches for sheltering cattle.


New habitat for Asiatic lions in MP

1 Aug 2008, 0204 hrs IST, Himanshu Kaushik,TNN

AHMEDABAD: Gir is poised to lose its status as the exclusive home of the Asiatic lion. Two pairs of the lions obtained from zoos will be let loose in the Kuno Palpur sanctuary shortly for breeding. Once their numbers grow in the coming years, Madhya Pradesh plans to throw the place open to tourists.

Zoos in Bhopal, New Delhi and Hyderabad have already agreed to part with lions for Kuno, after Gujarat rejected the idea of Kuno being an alternate habitat for the Asiatic lion. For Gujarat, being the only home of the Asiatic lion was a matter of pride and a draw for tourists. However, MP, which is a much bigger draw for tourists because of Khajuraho, may steal the march over Gujarat by showcasing the lions.

The Madhya Pradesh government has found other ways to get around Gujarat's opposition. "We have already got the nod from Hyderabad from where we would soon be getting a pair of zoo-bred Asiatic lions, besides one male Asiatic lion from Bhopal and a female from Delhi," said conservator of forest, Gwalior, Murli Krishna.

He added Kuno would begin as a breeding centre. "But once we have the third generation of lions, they would be let free in the jungle. In the next eight years the sanctuary would be opened up for tourists," said Krishna.

The MP forest department has submitted a proposal of Rs 40 crore for the development of the area as an Asiatic lion sanctuary, he added. Kuno Palpur wants to start with at least five pairs of lions so that in eight years time they can release at least 10 in the forest and keep the rest for breeding.

The Dehradun-based Wildlife Research Institute has for long felt that Gir, with its population of over 350 big cats, was too small for housing the animals.

The institute then zeroed in on the 344-sq km Kuno Palpur sanctuary and launched the Asiatic Lions Reproduction Project.


Gir gets closer to Ahmedabad

26 Jul 2008, 0359 hrs IST, Himanshu Kaushik,TNN

AHMEDABAD: Gir has just got closer to Ahmedabad. This time, it is not the lions straying further eastwards, but the Central government approving a second entry for Gir forest from the Amreli side.

This will create a whole new tourist circuit which will include Gir, Tulsishyam and Diu for the Amdavadi and south Gujarat backpackers. So far, the entry into Gir was from Sasan in Junagadh district. The second entry point will be from Ambardi in Amreli district.

Officials said this area would be developed on the lines of Devalia interpretation zone for Asiatic lions. This will make it easier for a tourist who wanted to do Gir and Diu in a single trip, packing in a lion safari, a pilgrimage and a beer on the beach. Till now, travellers were forced to take a longer route from Junagadh, Sasan, Kodinar to Diu which was over 500 kms from Ahmedabad. But after the Ambardi entry, one could head directly for Amreli and from there to Kodinar via Tulsishyam and to Diu, saving around 100 kms.

The Central government has also announced a package of Rs five crore for the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited (TCGL) and Gujarat state forest department to set up another Asiatic Lion Safari in Ambardi area of Amreli district which already has the permission of Central Zoo Authority of India. This will develop eco-tourism in Amreli district, which borders on the east of Gir forest. The second entry is located three km away from Dhari on Amreli Road, which is 60 km from Diu.

State tourism minister Jay Narayan Vyas said, "This would shorten the route for those wanting to see lions before heading for Diu. We chose this because it is near Khodiyar dam, so there is a water source and there are some 150 lions here so the chances of sighting are high." He added that permission to launch a second safari was pending with the Supreme Court.