Saturday, June 23, 2012

Jungle king turns cash-cow.

June 23--Hundreds of tourists flocking to Gujarat earlier this week gnashed their teeth in anger when they realised that the famed Gir wildlife sanctuary near Junagadh, the only home of the rare Asiatic lions, had just closed its gates for holidayers for four months for the long breeding season of the wild animals.
But forest department officials are all smiles even after the dense forest stopped coining ticket money from June 16. Well, the 411 lovable but ferocious felines that draw day-trippers from all over the world to Gujarat have this year helped the cash-strapped Narendra Modi government to rake in the moolah. As many as 420,000 people with an adventurous streak, including 11,000 foreigners, visited the leafy park between April 2011 and May 2012, not to mention countless other bravehearts who thronged the sprawling woodland in the last fortnight before the vacation for a close encounter with the jungle king in natural surroundings.
With each visitor willingly shelling out a fee of Rs110, the forest department for the first time in years collected a whopping Rs40 million -- four times its earnings during 2010-11.
No wonder, governments of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have been making desperate attempts to acquire a few of Gir's endangered lions to boost tourism but, of course, in the name of conservation.
Spread over 1412km, the sole remaining habitat boasting seven rivulets has 258km for the fully protected area (the National Park) and 1,154km for the sanctuary.
About 250 watering points are presently available for lions, leopards, spotted deer, sambar, nilgai, chinkara, antelope, and wild boar. Gir also harbours around 1,100 species of birds and 26 species of reptiles. In a bid to swell the forest department kitty, plans are now afoot to increase the number of tourist permits from 90 to 250 when the sanctuary re-opens on October 16.
On their part, animal lovers from Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Amreli and other places have joined hands to stop illegal lion shows being organised regularly for the rich and famous in the revenue areas outside the Gir sanctuary.
Apart from distributing pamphlets to create awareness about such 'unethical and cruel' programmes held regularly in Lathi area, the do-gooders will hold meetings with gram panchayats (village councils) and get an assurance from the sarpanches (chieftains) that they would not allow any outsider to enter their village for lion shows. They will also create their own network to get information about those organising such shows, and meet once in a month to review the situation. But shockingly, Gujarat's forest department has not stirred a finger to book people who harass the wild cats.
The reason? The officials feel that if they take legal action, they could lose the sympathy of locals who are instrumental in the state government's successful conservation efforts. The result is that instances of lions attacking their tormentors are not uncommon.

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