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.”


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Crossover kings: 60 lions venture out of Gir, may pick conflict with humans

DP Bhattacharya Posted: Sep 30, 2008 at 0213 hrs IST

Ahmedabad, September 29 WII report shows that Asiatic lions are looking for new habitat along grasslands

With more than 60 lions roaming outside the Gir Sanctuary area, fears have been expressed on potential man-animal conflicts in the region.

A study by the state Forest Department and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun has found that Asiatic lions from Gir are now looking for a new habitat along the grasslands of Palitana, Mahuva and Sabartundla adjoining the sanctuary.

It has also been observed that lions moving out of the sanctuary area cover approximately 800 sq km as opposed to the ones within the park, who restrict their movement within 100 sq. km. This came to light after tracking the movement of five lions, who have been radio collared by WII.