By Jumana Shah | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA
Wildlife experts from across the globe, following the issue closely, believe that the latest census report of the state government, highlighting a healthy growth in the population, may have drawn the attention of international poaching gangs.
It is widely held that there was calm in the region after the crackdown on poachers following the poaching cases in 2007.
But the rise in lion population and the knowledge that they are roaming free in non-protected areas, may have drawn poachers' attention back to Gir. "These gangs keep a watch out for such things," a senior reliable source said.
The official lion census covered 5,000 sq km in four districts, but lions have been spotted roaming freely over approximately 10,000 sq km.
Gir wildlife sanctuary is spread over only 1,600 sq km. Twenty-one lions were recorded in Kodinar, Una, Sutrapada and Chhara regions in Gir West where the recent gang was apprehended.
"This is a very serious development. Though the forest department is doing as good a job, it is not humanly possible to guard the whole area sufficiently. They have gone very far away and there are too few people," a senior police officer who was a part of the investigation team in 2007 said.
An ever-present threat
April 2007: Eight lion carcasses found in Babariya Range in Junagadh, and Palitana in Bhavnagar
April-May 2007: Case handed over to CID Crime for investigation; kingpin Sarkhashlal nabbed
Rs40 crore Lion Project for the big cats' conservation was announced by CM Narendra Modi in a swift damage control effort after visiting Sasan. Lion Conservation Society of Gujarat was founded; plethora of 'schemes' and projects launched to spread awareness
37 people, including an international trader, Prabhakar Keshav Gajakosh, from Karnataka who served as the link between the foot soldiers, domestic traders and the international market, was arrested after case was cracked by the end of the year. People of the Baheliya and Katni tribes of MP were held responsible.
2009: Court convicts all the accused. This is a landmark development as conviction in poaching cases is extremely difficult
May 2010: Gujarat government announces Asiatic lion population in Gir has swollen to 411 from 359.