Friday, September 30, 2011

Forest officer challenges transfer order.

AHMEDABAD: A forest officer has approached Gujarat high court challenging his transfer from Sasan Gir, allegedly at the behest of Congress MLA from Talala. Range forest officer (RFO) B R Parmar claimed that he was transferred earlier this month because his action to stop lion shows was not acceptable to local community.
Parmar filed a petition challenging his transfer from Gir to Rajkot and contended that he was transferred five times in the last two years.
He told the court that he was instrumental in putting a brake on lion shows that was going on in and around the sanctuary to attract and entertain tourists. Parmar claimed he took stern action in poaching cases which displeased local people.
They approached Talala MLA Bhagabhai Barad, at whose instance he was shifted to Rajkot earlier this month, Parmar said in his petition.
The forest officer told the court that the politician was not happy with his posting in Gir. During his earlier posting there in 2008, he tried to stop various illegal activities in the sanctuary and his actions infuriated Barad, who along with his supporters attacked him. A criminal proceeding in this regard has been pending, the forester has claimed.
After hearing allegations against the MLA, justice A S Dave decided to join Barad as a party respondent in the proceeding.
The next hearing in the case is on October 3.


September 28, 2011: The Gateway Hotels & Resorts today announced the launch of The Gateway Hotel Gir Forest. This will be the fourth Gateway branded hotel in Gujarat, in addition to the existing hotels in Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara. The Gateway Hotels & Resorts, from the Taj Group of Hotels, caters to the upscale segment and has expanded its footprint in Gujarat with this launch. With the opening of this hotel, The Gateway Hotels & Resorts now has 21 hotels in its portfolio.
"With this opening, we endeavour to pioneer new and unique destinations. While Gir Forest needs no introduction, we feel that there is great scope to develop tourism and hospitality here. We are happy to have received support and encouragement from the state government and hope to grow and expand in the state", said Mr. P. K. Mohankumar, Chief Operating Officer, The Gateway Hotel.
Located at the edge of the world-renowned Gir Forest, The Gateway Hotel Gir Forest, is the nature lover's ideal getaway. With its rich surroundings of dry deciduous and tropical thorn forests, the hotel faces the Hiran River to offer a picturesque and serene setting, away from the bustle of the city. Home to the Asiatic lion, the Sasan Gir Forest is one of the only two natural habitats of this subspecies around the world. The latest census recorded the lion count in Gir at 411. The leopard, jungle cat, rusty spotted cat, cheetal, sambhar, four-horned antelope, wild boar and hare are also easy to spot here, along with over 200 species of avifauna.
Also integral to the experience will be the jungle safaris that the hotel will provide in an open Gypsy.
For those who prefer a cultural expedition instead, the hotel is also close to various temples such as the Somnath, Banej and Kankai Temple, and historical destinations such as Junagadh, Gondal and Rajkot.
The 28 aesthetically designed rooms are equipped with convenient modern-day facilities. A multi-cuisine restaurant, GAD is the ideal hang-out option.
As a part of Tatas, India's premier business house, The Gateway Hotel has always believed that society and ecosystems are integral stakeholders in business, therefore are fully committed to the cause of building a sustainable environment.
Being a part of a very sensitive and rare ecosystem the hotel makes consistent efforts to ensure that its operations are responsible and least damaging to the ecosystem and that its presence in this region creates fresh opportunities for local communities around.
Apart from this utmost care has been taken to incorporate local plant species in the hotel to preserve the environment and create a green zone. The Gateway Hotel is also in the process of procuring and developing historic, endangered and rare plants which are in danger of becoming extinct. Ranging from Luffa Ecninata (Kukadvel) useful in treatment of jaundice to Premua Obtusifolia (Gheeteli) - an ancestral holy plant used for lighting 'Yagna' to Convolvulus microphyllus (Shankh Pushpi) used as brain tonic and immunity-builder for infants. More than 12 -15 such species have been identified in partnership with Dr. Rasik Bhatt , Junagadh based nature enthusiast and will soon be planted in the hotel.
The hotel is also keen to see local people access opportunities in hospitality and service sector in and around the region therefore has tied up with Ambuja Cement Foundation in Kodinar to provide skill training to local youth interested in careers in hospitality. A short course in house keeping and restaurant service is scheduled to begin at Kodinar in October-end.
 About The Gateway Hotel and Resorts
The Gateway Hotel and Resorts (upscale full service hotels) is a pan-India network of hotels and resorts that offers business and leisure travelers a hotel designed, keeping the modern nomad in mind. At The Gateway Hotel, we believe in keeping things simple. This is why our hotels are divided into 7 simple zones - Stay, Hangout, Meet, Work, Workout, Unwind and Explore. As travel often means more hassle than harmony, more stress than satisfaction, modern travelers are looking for smarter choices. Driven by our passion for perfection, we welcome our customers to a refreshingly enjoyable and hassle-free experience, anytime, everywhere. Offering the highest consistency in quality, service and style we set new standards and take the unwanted surprises out of traveling. Our warm welcome makes our guests feel at home, away from home and our crisp and courteous service empowers them to get more done with greater effectiveness and control. And through our unrivalled network we provide service that is effortless, simple, never overwhelming and always warm.
For further details please visit: or About Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces
Established in 1903, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces is one of Asia's largest and finest group of hotels, comprising 93 hotels in 53 locations across India with an additional 16 international hotels in the Maldives, Malaysia, Australia, UK, USA, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Africa and the Middle East.  From world-renowned landmarks to modern business hotels, idyllic beach resorts to authentic Grand Palaces, each Taj hotel offers an unrivalled fusion of warm Indian hospitality, world-class service and modern luxury.  For over a century, Taj Mahal Palace, the iconic flagship has set a benchmark for fine living with exquisite refinement, inventiveness and warmth. Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces is part of the Tata Group, India's premier business house.For further information, please contact: Kulveen Narula at Vaishnavi Corporate Communications on 9898999332

Asiatic Lion is no more ‘endangered’.

Published: Tuesday, Sep 6, 2011, 15:51 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA

Good news about the Asiatic Lions is galore these days. The latest is an announcement by the Union ministry of environment and forest that the Asiatic Lion is among the 16 species that have been identified for recovery from the ‘Endangered species list’ of the Red Book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
These species have been identified under the Centre’s Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats scheme. This scheme was modified in 2008-09 to include a new component ‘Recovery of Endangered Species’.
The Lok Sabha was informed on Monday by MoEF Jayanthi Natarajan that 16 species have been identified for recovery which is snow leopard, bustard (including floricans), dolphin, hangul, nilgiri tahr, marine turtles, dugong,edible nest swiftlet, Asian wild buffalo, nicobar megapode, manipur brow-antlered deer, vultures, malabar civet, Indian rhinoceros, Asiatic lion, swamp deer and Jerdon’s courser.
A recent study concluded by GEER Foundation about the status of dugong in India has brought to light a population of about 131 in India and about 15 off the Gujarat coast. It is interesting to note that the IUCN has stated in its Red Data Book that dugongs are ‘vulnerable to extinction’. Forest officers in Gujarat while welcoming the news of lion, exclaimed that removing the bustard and dugong from the ‘endangered’ list is difficult to explain.
Senior forest officer of Gujarat, HS Singh said the effective conservation of Asiatic lions in Gujarat and its subsequent increase in population over the years has ensured that the species does not remain ‘endangered’ anymore.
“Lions have been endangered for the last forty years. It is only recently that the population has steadied and now it is rising,” he said. The last census in May 2010 revealed a 14.5% increase in the lion population in Gir Forests and its peripheral areas. This is touted to be perhaps the only place where the big cat’s numbers are thriving. The great Indian bustard are found in Kutch and the last count had put the birds’ population at around 45

Lions safe, but vulnerable due to Gujarati pride: US

TNN Sep 21, 2011, 03.45am IST
AHMEDABAD: Right from poaching to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi's enthusiasm for the big cats' conservation, US diplomats have shown deep interest in the efforts made by the state. During several visits here, the foreign diplomats met state forest officials and sent detailed notes on lions in Gir. Many such documents sent from Mumbai consulate and Delhi US embassy were leaked by the whistleblower website Wikileaks.
A 2008 Wikileaks cable titled 'Wildlife Conservation In India's Gujarat State Yields Impressive Dividends But Pride Leaves Lions Exposed' reads: "Although Gujarat exemplifies what political will, education, and effective enforcement can do to protect wildlife, the justifiable pride Gujaratis feel in their conservation efforts stands in the way of ensuring the continued viability of the Asiatic lion. Despite the scientific evidence, with which they openly agree, Gujarat's wildlife officials maintain that only Gujaratis can protect the lion."
The cable adds that a senior forest official and an IPS officer claimed that the reason for the success was the keen personal interest and intervention of CM Narendra Modi which led to an "unusual level of interdepartmental cooperation between the forest department and the Gujarat police". The forest official informed an US embassy official that Modi personally attends forest department meetings with local communities to sort out complaints and issues.
The cable says: "Strong and palpable positivism of Gujaratis towards wildlife is also thanks in part to religious sentiments and the culture of vegetarianism as 80% of all Gujaratis are vegetarian, including the Maldhari community that resides inside GNP. According to deputy forest officer Raja, when a lion does kill a villager's livestock, the villager considers it an offering. Raja noted the forest department's longstanding and efficiently implemented policy of quickly paying compensation to the villager also helps to reduce villager retribution against lions."

Forest Officials Suspect Anthrax Scare at Periyar Tiger Reserve.

By: Rang7 Team September 26, 2011
The possibility of an Anthrax epidemic outbreak has led to creating a fearful atmosphere at the Periyar Tiger Reserve.
Last week the body a female elephant was found at Vallakkadavu range opposite to Nellikkampetti in the Thekkady range of the reserve. Forest officials who found the body and carried out a detailed examination said that the death has occurred due to unnatural conditions and suspect mainly due to anthrax.
The forest veterinary officials suspected symptoms of anthrax in the animal and samples have been sent for detailed test. Following the suspicions the body was not cut open and burnt as soon as possible without carrying out a post mortem examination, though a final confirmation of the disease will only be made after the results are out.

According to forest officials, the Anthrax virus generally lives for over 30 years. “Even if it is Anthrax, the virus must have been alive in the soil for such a long time. We don’t think there is the possibility of an epidemic outbreak in the wake of this incident,” an official said.
Wildlife experts and officials often fear such epidemic outbreaks which can wipe out an entire species. Fears of such instances occurring are often expressed in case of the Asiatic Lion which is found only in Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat. Experts fear that in case of an epidemic the entire species can be wiped out in one instant and are therefore are actively proposing for the lions to be transferred to other National Parks around the country as well. This will help to save the species in case of a problem in one area.

Forester says shunted for his lion care.

Express News Service Posted: Sep 30, 2011 at 0409 hrs IST
Ahmedabad Moves HC with petition that Talala Congress MLA got him transferred from Gir sanctuary in Junagadh
A forest officer has moved the Gujarat High Court challenging his transfer from the Gir sanctuary in Junagadh to Rajkot alleging that he was shifted because he had stopped ‘lion shows’ and several other illegal activities inside the sanctuary.
Acting on the petition by Range Forest Officer B K Parmar, which alleged that Talala Congress MLA Bhaga Barad was responsible for the transfer, a single-judge bench has ordered to name Barad as a respondent to the petition.
Parmar was transferred from the Gir lion sanctuary to the Rajkot Social Forest Department last week. Following this, he challenged the transfer through his lawyer, Mukul Sinha, who contended that the transfer was done at the instance of Barad.
To emphasise his point, Parmar has stated that the transfer was part of a series of five transfers that he received in the last two years because of his honest working style, which did not go well within the circles of his posting.
According to Sinha, Parmar has cited various instances where he acted against various persons found indulging in various illegal activities in the sanctuary, like conducting illegal ‘lion shows’ in Junagadh, which is the only abode of Asiatic lions in the world. He has alleged that locals used to tame lions using baits for visitors, who insisted on seeing the big cat at close quarters for a hefty fee. The officer had also effected arrests of some locals for the poaching of a chinkara inside the sanctuary.
Sinha said the local Maldhari community had approached Barad against Parmar, following which the transfer order came. He said the community members were indulging in various illegal activities inside the sanctuary which Parmar had resisted.
Giving another reason to indicate Barad’s alleged role behind his transfer, Parmar cited a 2008 case when the latter was posted in Junagadh and the former along with his accomplices had allegedly attacked him. A criminal case was registered at the relevant time against certain persons, including Barad. “Because Parmar is discharging his duty without fear or favour of anybody, he keeps getting transferred quite frequently. And Barad being close to the local Maldhari community, we believe him to be behind the transfer,” said Sinha.
The court has kept further hearing on October 3.

Cheetahs can wait...

Friday, 09 September 2011 00:20
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Right now we need to save the remaining big cats
Over the past decade, saving big cats — tigers, in particular — has been the focus of wildlife conservation in the Ministry of Environment and Forests. India is home to over half of the world’s tigers, with the latest census placing the number at 1,706. The number, as per the 2008 census release, was 1,411. Tiger habitats spread over 17 States were surveyed for counting. Though the number is up, poaching is still the biggest threat to the survival of tigers and even leopards. It may be recalled that Project Tiger was upgraded in the last decade with the National Tiger Conservation Authority and Wildlife Crime Control Bureau being set up after Sariska reserve’s tigers, estimated at 16-18, were poached. The fact came to light in January 2005. Subsequently, Panna sanctuary was found to have been divested of its 27 tigers by poachers.
An exercise to revive the big cat population in these reserves was initiated by re-locating tigers from other sanctuaries. The world-wide demand for tiger and leopard pelts and parts drives poaching. All the brain-storming by conservationists and the concerned agencies on how to counter it effectively has not been able to yield a fool-proof strategy. Government responses seem to be exceedingly slow, with a panel to probe the disappearance of four tigers from Ranthambore reserve about eight to 10 months ago being set up now. It should submit its findings by the month end. No one knows whether they are dead or have simply migrated in search of new territory.
In such a scenario, the Centre’s plan to bring six to 12 cheetahs from Africa or Iran or both, to the Palpur Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh by early 2012 has triggered disbelief among wildlife experts such as Belinda Wright, who question the rationale of this exercise, given the failings in tiger conservation. Rajasthan, too, may be brought within the ambit of the cheetah revival scheme. Cheetahs were decimated by hunters in India early last century. However, experts point out that Palpur Kuno’s proximity to Ranthambore means that tigers, leopards and cheetahs would be forced to co-exist, with big cats prone to wandering outside the reserves. This would create volatile situations, with the threat of poaching dogging them everywhere. In fact, the four tigers that are untraceable since many months may be an intimation of the fate that may befall the cheetahs.
Undeterred by criticism, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has reportedly approved re-introduction of cheetahs in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. It has also hiked the budget for tiger conservation from Rs 650 crore to Rs 1,216.86 crore, owing to the increase in cost of relocation of villages from tiger habitats and other factors. A statement released by the committee tries to justify the plan to bring in cheetahs thus:
“Re-introduction of cheetahs in the States of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan under the scheme at a cost of Rs 50 crore after ensuring the historical co-existence of cheetahs with other carnivores, especially the tiger, would benefit all the 40 tiger reserves falling in 17 tiger States, besides the people living in the fringe areas as well as communities opting for voluntary relocation from the core or critical tiger habitats.”
It is mystifying how the existing tiger reserves will benefit from the cheetah revival plan. Whether African (or Iranian cheetahs) will be able to adjust to the alien environs and co-exist with tigers, carnivores that are very different from lions, which move in packs, is a debatable point. Earlier, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had vetoed the plan to relocate some of the Gir sanctuary’s lions to Palpur Kuno. Mr HS Panwar, former Director, Project Tiger, credits the success of lion conservation in Gujarat to the fact that “the Government of Gujarat is seized of the matter right from the Chief Minister to field formations of forest and police departments.”
The 2010 census revealed that the Asiatic lions’ number had gone up by 52 to 411. It was 359 in 2005. Trophy hunters had reduced their numbers to a meagre 15 in the early 20th Century. The Nawab of Junagadh had first accorded protection to the Gir habitat and its denizens. Gujarat’s success in this sphere needs to be contrasted with the routine poaching in, say, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other parts.
Data on apprehension of illicit traders in big cats, collated only for July and August, is edifying —
  • August 21: Two persons arrested for illicit trade in tiger bones; the animal was poached in the vicinity of the well-guarded Nagarahole Tiger Preserve.
  • August 7: Two persons were arrested and leopard pelts seized from their possession in Kashipur town in Udhamsingh Nagar district.·
  • July 31: Two persons were arrested from South Delhi, with two leopard pelts being seized from them.
  • July 10: Chandrapur police seize leopard skins seized from four men near Kothari, 200km from Nagpur. The list of offences, beginning from January, suggests that big cats’ poachers are operating quite freely. In two recent judgements, meted out by lower courts in Rajasthan, on June 19 and June 25, the accused were sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and fined. These cases related to poaching of tigers in the Sariska reserve and Akbarpur range. But the option of appeal is always available to them. On August 5, a Bangalore lower court sentenced three tiger poachers to a three-year jail term. This was the first such conviction in Karnataka. But if poachers are let out on bail, the trend so far, it would nullify their crime.
  • Pictorially speaking...

    T R Shankar Raman

    With its ‘mouth’ opening through the Gulf of Kachchh, a neck set in the hills of the Dangs, and a curved ‘jaw’ housing the most populated districts dangling over the Arabian Sea, the shape of Gujarat looks like the head of an animal, and a smiling one at that.

    Gujarat’s vibrant wildlife: a pictorial journey
    Diinesh Kumble
    Commissionerate of Information,
    2011, pp 192
    Rs. 1,495
    Within the limited geographical scope offered by the administrative boundaries is, however, a surprising diversity of landscapes, ecosystems, and wildlife.

    With a rich array of photographs and a notable paucity of text, Kumble’s book aims to take the reader, or rather the gazer, on a journey through this state in this book published with the support of the Government of Gujarat. It has the blessings of no less than its Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, with whose message the book opens on a page opposite a photograph of, of course, a lion.

    The book is organised rather loosely as chapters on five major habitats: grassland, wetland, forest, marine, and desert. Within each, there is about a page of text, the rest is all photographs and captions. As an introduction to Gujarat’s wildlife (names of species are also accompanied by Gujarati names, although not in Gujarati script), the book has some limited success, and some extraordinary failures.

    The book is redeemed in part by many colour photographs, and the printing quality is excellent. The images, mostly of mammals and birds, are mostly those taken by the author, with some by his wife Chris Romila Kumble, and a sprinkling from other photographers: Devesh Gadhvi, Umeed Mistry, and Sumer Verma. Most photographs are crisp portraits — close-ups of the sort that one gets with vibration-reduced large lenses with wide-open apertures — with the background and foreground fuzzy. The images captivate, but lack depth, literally and figuratively, on the living landscapes and plants that sustain animal life. The chapter on forests, for instance, lacks photographs of any forest type. Adding a few such images to accompany each chapter would have helped.

    Transcending the field-guide type portraits that the book is filled with are a few images that stand out in terms of composition, inspiring a touch of awe, a sense of nature wild and free. Such are Mistry’s underwater shots of turtle and whale shark, Gadhvi’s image of lesser agama, and a few photos by the author and his wife, such as the sepia-toned spread of wild ass, flamingos in flight, and a pan of a jackal running.

    Where the book really stoops low in quality is in the text. Almost uniformly poorly written, it includes some blandly-stated incomprehensibles such as “Forests are veritably the laboratories of life where co-operation and zero-sum games are seen in the raw” and “When it finally appeared but for a fraction of a second before disappearing behind the rocks, it was definitely worth a thousand words”.

    The captions of the images again read like field-guide material, often repeating the colours of the animal self-evident in the photograph. Captions for a few full-page images appear to have been overlooked. There is little on ecology, and even less on conservation in the book, to provide an interpretive context. The book would have benefited if the photographic skills of the author were combined with the knowledge of a field biologist who could also write well.

    Were all the photos taken in Gujarat and of free-ranging animals? The portrait of a lion that the book opens with looks suspiciously like a much-photographed individual from an enclosure in Gir. Seeing images of foxes and hyenas photographed near dens, and of a leopard running in broad daylight, one also hopes that the photographer used due diligence to minimise disturbance to animals.

    There is also nothing worthwhile about conservation in this book, although the introduction claims that conservation is a ‘living ideology’ in Gujarat, epitomised by its lions. The sorry state of the Asiatic lion, reduced to a spectacle for tourists inured to the sight of habituated and hustled lions lying about their vehicles in a small area of Gujarat, a fraction of its original range, is not discussed.

    Still, the book, published by the State Government, can hardly mention the blinkered intransigence of Gujarat to allow the establishment of another population in an identified reintroduction site in Madhya Pradesh, can it? In today’s context, lions are no more the pride, they are the shame of Gujarat.

    Similarly, there is nothing about the Dangs and forest loss and fragmentation, nothing about pollution and bleaching threatening the coral reefs, and certainly nothing about Gujarat’s race to urbanise and industrialise and its consequences on the environment within which its people live.

    To be fair, conservation is not the main theme of the book, but by ignoring conservation, peoples, and land uses in Gujarat, the book is one among many that succeeds in conveying an impression of wildlife and nature as objects, as colourful curiosities that one goes out to see, and constrained to remain within protected areas ordained for them (the maps in the book only show Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks).

    Metaphorically speaking, the book succeeds in capturing this feeling and message through its images. Stilt and stork, gharial and hedgehog, nightjars and sandgrouse, they are all clipped, snout or beak to tail-tip, as tight portraits. There is little space, no vista. The images suggest a circumscribed view of wildlife in Gujarat, like closeted jewels in a locked jewel box.