RAJKOT: Gujarat's forest department is facing a strange dilemma. Officials would like to book people who harass the Asiatic Lion in Gir and surrounding areas so that they can teach the pranksters a lesson and set an example. But if they do take legal recourse, they fear losing the sympathy of locals, an important factor in the successful conservation of the wild cat in its last home in the world.
There have been a couple of instances in the recent past when lions have attacked their tormentors leading to tragic consequences. On April 17, a lion brutally attacked and killed a 35-year-old man in Dholadri village in Rajula taluka of Amreli district after his friends and he pelted stones at the wild cat feeding on a cow. They snatched away the prey which enraged the lion.
Sources say forest department officials knew exactly what had happened, but chose not to take action. They even paid Rs 1.5 lakh compensation to the relatives. The compensation is paid to only those who are killed by accident and have not harassed the lion.
In another incident, a lion attacked two people who were part of the group harassing it near Otha village, some 20 km from Mahuva in Bhavnagar district on May 29. The group had ventured too close to the animal and cornered it. Again, no complaint was filed under the Wildlife Protection Act.
"If we file a complaint against those who injured while watching the lions in the revenue area, we may lose the sympathy of local people, who might turn hostile towards the animals. We have to take care of all aspects," said a senior forest official from Bhavnagar.
"Locals have been supportive of the conservation of lions on more occasions than one. So, during these kinds of incidents, we need to be tactful. People's support is important in protection of wild animals, particularly when these incidents occur in revenue areas," argued the forest officer.
Wildlife activists, however, believe strict action should be taken against those harassing lions. "There is an urgent need to increase patrolling in the areas were lions are found in good numbers outside the sanctuary. One can now find the big cats in coastal areas and often become a major attraction for locals," said Vipul Laheri, honorary wildlife warden of Amreli. "Complaints should be filed against those who are found harassing lions to set an example."