But the exact number by which the population of the Asiatic Lions in Gir has risen will be known only on May 1, when Gujarat turns 50 as an independent state. The census will be carried out by a team of 1,300 volunteers who will be joined by senior state foresters and big cat experts drawn from all over the country. Spotting the lion king was never easy but foresters are hoping that technology will come to their aid this time. This is the first time that the lion census is being conducted on such a massive scale over a large area and much more scientifically than in previous years.
The labourers, forest staff and volunteers involved in the census will fan out over 300 beats carved out of a 5,000 sq km area called the Greater Gir. Seven regions were identified; these were then divided into zones, sub-zones and beats.
This is also the first time that the ‘Greater Gir’ region which includes areas in four districts - Amreli, Junagadh, Bhavnagar and parts of Porbandar - is to be covered for the census. Earlier, it was restricted to the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary spread over an area of 1,412 sq km. The inclusion of other areas for the census is a restrained admission by the establishment that the lion habitat has now expanded much beyond the sanctuary area.
The majestic beast is now steadily reclaiming its traditional corridor all the way from Porbandar to Bhavnagar. The last lion census of 2005, which stated that the lion population in the Gir sanctuary was 359, was conducted by identification of pug marks.
This time the methodology of ‘direct sighting’ will be used. Under this method, specific body marks will be identified and uploaded into the GPS device carried by each team. This data will be available to all other teams simultaneously.
“It will reduce redundancies to a great extent, but not completely,” said principal chief conservator of forests, Pradip Khanna.
Ironically, it might be relatively easier to enumerate the lion king in summer as they tend to hover close to the water holes because of the heat.