Tuesday, July 17, 2012
A la carte: King’s banquet has different menus.
AHMEDABAD: The king of the jungle has changed his menu! Eating habits of Asiatic lions in Gir and its periphery has seen a remarkable change. Over the last five decades, lions have increasingly started to feast on wild animals instead of livestock.
A study by foreign researcher Paul Joslin in the late 1960s had revealed that about 75% lions were dependent on livestock, including cattle, while only 25% hunted wild animals down.
The ratio has reversed today, according to an ongoing study by Gujarat's forest department. "Today, about 80% lions have wild animals in their main diet and only 20% feast on cattle," said deputy conservator of forests Sandeep Kumar.
Even outside the protected sanctuary area, less than 50% of intake is livestock. In coastal areas like Bhavnagar, 63% of lions' diet is blue bull or neelgais - a major reason why local farmers accept lions as their neighbour because blue bulls damage their crops.
A fast-growing prey base and human population, mainly maldharis, moving out of jungles are the main reasons for the reversal in the trend. The phenomenon is reflected in the number of cattle heads killed by lions inside the sanctuary - from 700-800 in 1970s to just about 200 today.
"The study corroborates the findings of Meena Venktraman, who did her PhD in 2008 on Asiatic lions. The study revealed that 81% of lions in the sanctuary area depend on wild animal for their food while the rest depend on livestock," said Kumar.
Experts like Dr H S Singh, additional chief principal conservator of forests, too agree.
Usually, such studies are done by scat analysis after studying faeces of animals to identify the kind of animal and its diet.
In Gir west, chitals account for 46% of lions' diet followed by cattle (18%), sambhar (17%) and blue bull (13%). Contrary to this, in the eastern areas, towards Amreli and Bhavnagar, blue bull is the king's favourite diet - nearly 30% - followed closely by cattle which accounts for 28%.
Buffet time for the Big Cats
In Devaliya, foresters have seen a human side to the lions. Much like us, the big cats also seem to prefer varied diets.
A lioness and her three cubs in the area have a special liking for male neelgai. This mini-pride has an impeccable record in hunting stout, male neelgai. Nothing else will satisfy them!
An ongoing study by the forest officials and deputy conservator of forest Sandeep Kumar reveals that while some prides prefer to feast on a variety of prey, there are many others that prefer hunting for specific animals. Like this group of Devaliya, there was another group of 13-14 lions in Vekharia in Bhavnagar who preferred only neelgai as their food.
He said the kill pattern of the lions depended on various factors including the size of the pride, the climate, the availability of the prey and the size of their groups found in the area among others.
Kumar said that if the group was big, it would love to have a huge buffalo or a neelgai as its food. But if the group was a small it would kill a chital or sambhar.
He noted that the diet even changed with the season. In winters, the killing of chital for food was 54 per cent, while this reduced to 38 per cent in summer. In monsoon, about 26 per cent of the cattle were killed for food, but during winter it was reduced to 13.5 per cent.
Kumar said that during the monsoon, the sambhar would shift to areas with higher altitudes and hence they would be killed more by leopards — which stay in these higher altitude areas. Lions are not found on very high altitude areas. However, chital killing by lions increased in these seasons, as the chital always stays in flat lands and are an easy target for the big cats. He observed that during monsoon, the killing of cattle also increases. Many farmers leave their cattle alone who stray into the forest area and become prey to lions.
Officials said that the even the movement of the group and their size also play a major role into accounting for the lion diet. In Gir area, one can find large group of chital during winter and hence they fall easy prey to lion. But during summer and monsoon when the group size of chital reduces, the killing of these animals also decreases.