Thursday, August 30, 2012

Eco-sensitive zones to now shield Asiatic lions in Gujarat .

Monday, 06 August 2012 13:28 PNS | New Delhi
The home of the world’s last population of Asiatic lions in the wild, Girnar Forests in Gujrat will now be surrounded by eco-sensitive zone. The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has also declared the setting up of similar zones around the wildlife sanctuaries of Purna in Dangs, Narayan Sarovar in Kutch and Vansda National Park in Valsad. Mining, industrialisation and tourism activities here will also have to be regulated.
As per the MoEF notification issued recently, Girnar eco-sensitive zone will occupy an area of 9,318 hectares covering a span of five-km radius around the sanctuary that covers 27 villages. The area will have development that would henceforth be regulated through a zonal master plan expected to come up within two years.
The eco-sensitive zone around the Purna wildlife sanctuary will have an area of 25,036 ha covering a two-km radius, that also includes 61 villages. Purna has above 3,000 species of plants and animals..
The notification further states that the zone around Narayan Sarovar wildlife sanctuary will occupy 22,588 ha, of which about 60% is non-forest land. It will stretch up to 2.5 kilometers throughout the sanctuary’s periphery, covering 28 villages.
The sources pointing to the  specialty of  Narayan Sarovar  said it falls under “a separate biotic province of the country” and thereby has a distinct gene pool, that include grasslands in arid regions, mangrove forests along the coastal stretches and wetlands.
Vansda National Park that once took pride in flaunting tigers today takes pride in bird species that are typical to the Western Ghats are . The area also abounds in various kinds of medicinal shrubs and herbs with orchids, litchens and ferns.It also hosts nine mammalian species and some rodent species, as well as reptiles and amphibians. The eco-sensitive zone in the National Park will spread over five kms of its total periphery and covering about 13 villages.

Bookings hit at Ranthambore over SC ban.

JAIPUR: It was a day of mixed fortunes for Rajasthan that has been advocating regulated tourism in tiger reserves rather than a complete ban.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to formulate fresh guidelines for protection of tigers in core and buffer zones, providing room for an alternate route to be considered.
However, with the court deciding to continue the ban till the next hearing on September 27, just days before the Ranthambore tiger reserve opens to visitors on October 1, tourism at the park is sure to take a beating.
The online booking of Gypsies and canters for a safari at the park by the forest department is yet to begin. "Normally, online bookings start a month or two before the park opens for the season. However, this time with the Supreme Court ban, there is no way we can begin bookings. Else, tourists' money will get stuck," said AC Chaubey, chief wildlife warden, Rajasthan.
Till the last season, to get a Gypsy booked for a safari was a matter of luck as bookings are closed within the first week of the season owing to heavy rush of tourists.
Requests for cancellation of rooms at hotels too have started pouring in. Balendu Singh, president, Hotel Owners' Association in Ranthambhore said, "October November are major months for us. With festivals lined up, tourists head to Ranthambhore. This is not the case this year. Most people who are travelling on a holiday like to plan their tour well in advance but with the Supreme Court ban there is an uncertainty about visits to the park. The effect can be felt in the number of bookings."
With the court fixing the date of hearing in the case so close to the time when the park opens to public, hoteliers said fate of several bookings have been left to the last minute.
"First, we had told them (tourists) that by Wednesday the court would come up with a decision, but now with the ban being extended, we will have to intimate them once again through e-mails. We hope that the ban is eventually lifted. Ranthambhore has managed well with regulated tourism since several years and other states can learn from us. Even during peak season, just 40 vehicles are allowed to go inside the park everyday," he adds.
On the brighter side, with the Supreme Court in its fresh order asking stakeholders to make their submissions within a week to the committee set up for framing the guidelines for consideration, it is possible that many states, including Rajasthan, that have earlier sent their recommendations to the ministry will now approach the court straight away.
Rajasthan that has been leading a crusade of sorts gathering all tigers states in the country under an umbrella so that the total ban is lifted might just decide to represent its case on its own. However, officials refused to comment anything on the matter and said, "It is too early to decide on such things now."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Population of Gyps vultures falls by 65% since ’05.

Express news service
Posted: Aug 29, 2012 at 0549 hrs IST
Ahmedabad The population of critically endangered Gyps vultures found in Gujarat continues to decline and has fallen by around 65 per cent since 2005, the just-released results of this year’s state-wide population survey suggests, noting a fall from 2,657 vultures then to 938 vultures now.
But the decline has been less steep in the last two years and stands at about 11 per cent, although experts warn this may seem so partly because survey efforts have been strengthened and enumerators have been able to spot more of the winged scavengers.
“Apart from the apparent inaccuracies that may emerge from subsequent survey qualities, the latest survey estimates show the vulture population seems to be stabilising slowly, and that may be attributed to the fact that diclofenac use has gone down, people are more aware, and those are areas where we should concentrate on also. The vulture is also not a hated bird any more, and people are cutting down less trees that house them,” said Pradeep Khanna, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF).
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) blames the “anti-inflammatory veterinary drug diclofenac, used to treat domestic livestock” and which causes renal failure and visceral gout, and a “second veterinary drug, ketoprofen,” as major threats to the two Gyps vultures across India.
Gyps vultures are also known as Old World Vultures and are genetically distinct from what are called New World Vultures. A major difference between the two is that Gyps vultures exclusively depend on sight to locate food while their new world counterparts exhibit powerful olfactory senses.
In Gujarat, two kinds of Gyps vultures, the White-rumped vulture and the Long-billed vulture, are found.
Interestingly, while the population of White-rumped vultures has decreased by 27 per cent since 2010 and is currently estimated at 577 individuals, the population of Long-billed vultures has grown by 36 per cent in the same period and is estimated at 361 individuals currently.
For the first time, this year’s survey also enumerated non-Gyps vulture species found in the state, including the endangered Egyptian Vulture and the the critically endangered Red-headed (King) Vulture, finding 97 and 8 individuals of each respectively.
Kutch (with 180 White-rumped vultures), Junagadh (with 26 White-rumped vultures, 122 Long-billed vultures and 5 Red-headed vultures) and Bhavnagar (with 99 White-rumped vultures and 3 long-billed vultures) are the three districts with the highest number of vulture populations in the state. While 17 districts host vulture populations, nine districts have none.

The 2012 survey was conducted over two days in May. Besides the state Forest Department’s front-line staff, employees of the Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation, about 225 volunteers (naturalists, nature lovers and birders) were also involved.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Tuesday August 28 2012 by Adrian LeeTHE genteel surroundings of Clacton-on-Sea are about as far removed from the usual habitat of a lion as can be imagined. So it was only natural that reports that the King of the Jungle had somehow found his way to the Essex coast caused a stir.
A hunt for the beast involving marksmen and helicopters was launched and people were warned to stay indoors before the search was called off yesterday leaving a mystery.
However, we shouldn’t be surprised that the authorities gave it their full attention.
Defra, the government department responsible for the countryside, does not accept that big cats and other exotic wild beasts roam freely in Britain.
Yet there’s compelling evidence to the contrary. From the desolate Highlands of Scotland to the busy streets of London, wild animals normally associated with the other side of the world have apparently been seen in almost every nook and cranny of the nation. In the past decade there have been more than 6,000 sightings, including 190 this year alone.
Mark Fraser, founder of Big Cats in Britain, says: “The vast majority of sightings are a case of mistaken identity but I have little doubt there are big cats out there. They don’t survive in large numbers but big cats are very adaptable and the ­climate in Britain is perfect.
ìThere’s also a plentiful food ­supply. A big cat can survive on one deer, or two rabbits, a week
Mark Fraser, founder of Big Cats in Britain
“There’s also a plentiful food ­supply. A big cat can survive on one deer, or two rabbits, a week.”
Big Cats in Britain takes its responsibilities seriously and, in addition to volunteers all over the UK, has DNA testing facilities and trackers ready to spring into action the moment there’s a quality sighting. It’s also inundated with carcasses and ­droppings, sent by members of the public who are intent on solving the riddle of Britain’s wild beasts.
The animals most likely to thrive in the UK are black leopards, ­jaguars and sandy-coloured pumas, which are also known as mountain lions.
Lynx, which were supposedly hunted out of existence in medieval times, could also be roaming wild. There have been calls to re-introduce the animals officially, to ­control the deer population, along with wolves, which died out in the 1700s. Wild boar, hunted in ancient times by kings, could also be poised for a revival.

Down the years there have been some famous encounters. The most notorious big cat is the Beast of Bodmin, which has been seen regularly since the Eighties. Sightings in this area of Cornwall, along with the discoveries of animal carcasses bearing fang-like marks, have prompted claims of a colony of ­panther-like wild cats.
The Beast of Bodmin’s infamy reached a peak in 1983 when a Devon farmer reported 100 sheep killed. The Government mobilised a team of crack snipers from the Royal Marines but all that was found at the time was a fox.
When a 14-year-old boy came across a skull in the River Fowey it seemed proof had finally been unearthed. However, experts at London’s Natural History Museum concluded it was from a panther that had been killed overseas and dropped on the moor.
That hasn’t stopped amateur trackers descending on the area and there is a 20-second video showing a black, three-and-a-half foot animal roaming the region.
Sceptics say that even if these beasts do exist the chances of the same species meeting and mating is highly unlikely.
In addition to fearsome animals, species such as racoons, wallabies, scorpions and a penguin are also on the loose, says a report by animal group Beastwatch UK.
Big cat hunters have also targeted Carmarthenshire, in South Wales, following a spate of attacks on sheep.
In Wales in August 2000, an 11-year old boy was attacked near his home in Monmouthshire.
Josh Hopkins from Trellech, needed medical treatment after he was left with five claw marks across his face. Experts thought a juvenile leopard might have been the culprit.
In 1994 a beast known as “the fen tiger” was captured on video in Cambridgeshire and sightings from this area continued up until 2008.
In October 1980, a female puma was captured at Cannich in Inverness-shire. The big cat had been spotted in the area for up to two years before a farmer built a metal cage trap and placed it on part of his land where the animal was known to roam.
The captive puma was taken to Kincraig Wildlife Park near ­Kingussie and lived for another five years. Christened Felicity, she was stuffed after her death and can now be seen at Inverness Museum.
The animal, which was remarkably tame, had almost certainly been released into the wild by a private collector not long before the initial sightings. Intriguingly, Felicity’s capture did not end the sightings and the wide expanse of the Highlands would seem to be ideal territory for such beasts to roam freely.
More surprising was the case of Lara the Lynx, a big cat captured in Golders Green, North London, in May 2001.
London Zoo’s head keeper of big cats Ray Charter, who answered a call from a member of the public, said at the time: “We get numerous calls reporting big cat sightings and so far nearly all of them have proved incorrect. It usually turns out to be a large domestic cat.
“You can imagine my surprise when I bent down to look under the hedge expecting to see a large ­ginger Tom, only to be met by a much more exotic face.”
The animal evaded capture with a net but was eventually sedated with a dart from a blowpipe. Lara’s origins are unknown but she was last heard of living happily in a zoo in France where she was part of a breeding programme.
Another lynx was shot after attacking sheep near Norwich in 1991. Two years later a leopard ­suffered the same fate on the Isle of Wight after feasting on poultry.
Yorkshire is the area of Britain which produces the most sightings but reports come in from all over the UK.
So far this year there have been 190 reports of wild animals on the loose following more than 500 in 2011. This year’s crop includes the case of two terrified joggers who claim to have been confronted by a big black cat in the Lake District in February. There have been many similar reports of a large black beast in the same area.
Also this year, the discovery of a series of savaged deer corpses fuelled fears that a big cat was on the prowl in Gloucestershire. The county’s Forest of Dean is another renowned hot spot but these beasts are incredibly ­elusive. Mark Fraser of Big Cats in Britain has been keeping an eye out for them for 25 years but has sighted only three.
His most exciting encounter was in 2004, near Hemingby in Lincolnshire, where DNA tests on a hair recovered from an old caravan, ­confirmed the existence of a black leopard.
He says: “I was following up reports of a sighting of a black cat and saw it run across a field. I have no doubt it was a leopard. It’s been seen several times since.”
Putting a figure on the precise number of big cats on the loose at any one time is impossible. A single puma can roam across territory covering 160 square miles so the same beast is likely to generate multiple sightings. The lifespan of a big cat in the wild is about 12 years. It’s likely that most sightings are of animals that have escaped from zoos or been illegally released by private collectors.
Since 1976 it’s been illegal to own any of the big cats without a licence. Before then it was fashionable for the rich and famous to have exotic pets such as panthers and pumas, which were decked out in tacky, glittery collars and paraded around the streets.
It was expected that tightening the law would result in a slump in sightings but that’s not been the case.
Fraser says: “For some people, owing a wild cat is still a status symbol. Throughout the world the illegal trade of these animals is ­second only to drug dealing.”
The Holy Grail for organisations which track and monitor these elusive beasts is to prove the existence of breeding colonies.
Fraser adds: “There have been reliable reports of mothers and cubs but no concrete evidence.”
Reassuringly, the chances of anyone coming unexpectedly face-to-face with a big cat are remote. They are shy animals, which hunt at night and shun open spaces but the expert warns: “If you happen to corner one it will go for you. They are dangerous wild animals and deserve our respect.
“A big cat can easily kill a human, although the reality is it will be aware of you before you get anywhere near and probably be long gone.” Unlike the life-size toy tiger which sparked a major operation when it was left lying in a field near Southampton last year.

Lions pressured by fodder shortage.

AHMEDABAD: Gujarat foresters are dealing with a new threat to the Gir wildlife sanctuary. Scarcity of fodder on the periphery of the sanctuary is forcing politicians to pressure the forest department to permit Maldharis to bring their cattle inside the sanctuary for grazing.
Forest officials said that MLAs from the ruling party were trying to ensure that the Maldhari community around the sanctuary was allowed into Gir, Girnar, and Mitiyala sanctuaries. Sources said the pressure was constant.
This being an election year, officers are in a fix as members of the two main political parties want local inhabitants to illegally enter the area.
Bhagvan Bharwad, the MLA from Talala, said: "We will wait till Sunday and if there is no rain, we will make representations to the state government and even write to chief minister to permit grazing in the forest." Bharwad said grass was not available and one could not let animals die for want of food. "If the forest department or the state government refuses to give us permission, we will enter the forest without permission," he said. "Let them take action."
A forest official said that in the recent past, a couple of attempts were made to enter the forest but guards prevented people from venturing deep into the sanctuary.
The sanctuary is closed for public for four months during monsoon, from June 15. Forest officials said that during this period the danger of lion attack was high. If Maldharis were permitted to enter the forest with cattle, risk to their lives would be immense.
Forest officials said that Maldharis were illegally allowing their cattle to graze in areas near the boundary of the sanctuary. "This is the peak season for breeding for not just the big cats, but even for the herbivores," a forest official said. "The newborn of the herbivores learn to walk. At such a time, if cattle is permitted to graze in the sanctuary, they could be a nuisance to the newborn."

Why rare Asiatic lions stray out of Gir forest.

Last updated on: August 27, 2012 09:54 IST
Haresh Pandya tries to find out what ails the rare Asiatic lions of Saurashtra's Gir forest and why they stray out of their only habitat in the world.
While there has been a steady increase in the population of the rare Asiatic lions in the dense forests of Gir in the Saurashtra peninsula of Gujarat in the last fifteen years, there have also been many incidents of their untimely deaths, including by poachers until recently for their priceless claws and teeth.
Officially there were 309 lions in 1995, 321 in 2001 and 359 in 2005. In the last census, conducted in 2011, there were 526 lions in Gir forests.
A rare Asiatic lion from Gir forest yawns at a zoological park in Junagadh
This may not be a big figure, but considering the fact that Gir is spread in an area of only 1,412 sq km, it is an enormous number.
Usually a single adult lion requires grassland of about, say, 25 sq km to live and roam comfortably. Wildlife experts familiar with the geography of Gir believe its forests cannot provide shelter to more than 200 lions, all factors considered. (And one is not even talking about other big cats, particularly leopards, which are already there in a larger number to accompany the lions.)
Image: A rare Asiatic lion from Gir forest yawns at a zoological park in Junagadh
Consequently they tend to step out of what is their only habitat in the world and explore hamlets and villages on the periphery of Gir in search of preys, much to the chagrin of their inhabitants, who are concerned not only about their own lives but also their livestock, and to the delight of poachers.
As if that was not enough, there is an alarming increase in encroachment in the very heart of Gir. There are at least four major temples in Gir, of which Kankai and Tulshishyam are very famous and remain crowded with hundreds of pilgrims throughout the year, except during the monsoon.
Add to these a railway line and a couple of roads on which government and private vehicles regularly ply and the plight of the Gir wildlife is complete. One can only feel sorry for the lions and other animals.
An Asiatic lion rests in Gir forest in GujaratIncidents of a lion or two, or even a pride for that matter, straying out of their protected areas and attacking and killing domesticated animals of farmers, shepherds, milkmen and other settlers living on the outskirts of Gir are neither uncommon nor infrequent. (Of late they have started fatally attacking even humans sleeping outside their homes in the dead of night.)
In fact, at times the Gir lion is sighted even on the coastal areas of Una, Seemar, Kodinar, Sutrapada, Veraval, and even the stunningly picturesque island of Diu, which is a favourite destination of many a tourist.
Image: An Asiatic lion rests in Gir forest in Gujarat
There has been a move by the government of India for translocation of a specific number of lions from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh.
But the Gujarat government has strongly and persistently opposed any such move, arguing that when Madhya Pradesh is unable to protect its tigers, what is the guarantee that the lions will be safer there. It is also argued that lions and tigers cannot live together.
On the other hand, Madhya Pradesh government says that it is very risky to keep the entire lot of lions at one particular place; arguing that any epidemic or natural or man-made calamity may wipe out the entire population of the already rare Asiatic lions.
A long legal battle has been going on between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh governments in the Supreme Court for many years over this issue.
There was an "outer" Gir within Gujarat almost a hundred years ago, covering, among other areas, the forests on the Barda hills near Porbandar.
There were lions on Barda in the past. But today the forest area of Barda is spread across only 192 sq km.
Another problem is there is nothing for the lion to hunt for its prey on Barda, not even species of the deer. To develop all this, and much more besides, is a Himalayan task.
However, the Gujarat government has already started lion breeding centres in Barda as well as at Rampara near Rajkot and Jesar near Bhavnagar.
The map of Gir national park and sanctuary in GujaratSource:
The idea is to develop these small forest areas of Saurashtra as second homes of sorts for a select few lions and reduce the "burden" on an already congested Gir.
Some wildlife experts are also in favour of shifting several lions from Gir to Hingolgadh hills in Rajkot district.

Image: The map of Gir national park and sanctuary in Gujarat
Photographs: Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons Of course, it could be dangerous to have more lions living in smaller areas like these. According to medical experts, the population of Gir lions is inbreeding and hence their cubs have little resistance power against certain diseases.
More than 150 lions are reported to have died in Gir in the last five years and at least 50 per cent of them were cubs.
Concerned wildlife activists warn that if a certain number of Gir lions are not shifted somewhere else, they will continue to  die untimely deaths at regular intervals.
Gir has long reached a saturation point. The forest has already been very dense in many parts.
"The density of Gir has touched an alarming figure of almost 80 per cent. Lions in particular find it difficult to live comfortably in the dense forests. They do not get their prey on time. Something must be done to lessen the density of Gir," says a wildlife expert.
Two-week old lion cubs from Gir forests snuggle together at a zoo in BangaloreBut it is not easy. The lions can always feel at home in the grassland. But you cannot cut teak plantation to reduce the density of the forest because of the environment law.
"The trouble is that if you try to solve one problem, you face two new ones! But something must be done by all concerned to conserve the rare Asiatic lions," adds another nature and wildlife lover.

Image: Two-week old lion cubs from Gir forests snuggle together at a zoo in Bangalore
Photographs: Reuters


Monday, August 27, 2012

Activists want illegal lion shows banned.

RAJKOT: Illegal lion shows near Khambha in Amreli district has worried wildlife activists.
On Saturday night, Jilu Bhukal, a Khambha resident was passing through Piplva on Chaturi road at around 12:30 am when he got suspicious on spotting some people by the roadside.
"When I inquired, a person told me he that he is from the forest department and started abusing me. I am a member of the cow protection committee and I got a tip-off about cattle being taken to slaughter house and I went for patrolling on that road. After a scuffle with the person, I immediately filed an application with Khambha police and informed the forest department. I suspect that there was lion show going on,'' Bhukal alleged.
According to Bhagu Soni, wildlife activist from Khambha, illegal lion shows have become common now.
"Within few minutes, people from Rajula, Dhari and Savarkundla reached the village when they heard about the lion's kill,'' he said.
"We got information that on Saturday night, more than 200 people from different villages visited the place where a lion killed a cattle and was eating it,'' Soni said.
Explaining the modus operandi, Soni said when a lion kills any cattle, the show organizers snatch the prey and drag it to some topographically higher places from where they can safely watch the lion eating its kill.
"This is absolutely illegal practice and it should stopped as it harasses lions,'' Soni said.
Soni said that in some cases, dead cattle were being dragged using tractors to organize such lion shows for fun.
"We are getting regular complaints from villages. In the time of scarcity, people have abandoned their cattle in large numbers. These cattle are tied to trees near a lion's territory and people wait for the lion to come and devour it. We have informed the forest department about this in the past too,'' said Himanshu Bhatt, another wildlife lover from Savarkundla.
However, when contacted, Tulsishyam range forest officer NB Pardva denied that lion shows were being held in his area. "All accusations about lion shows near Khambha are false. As far as Saturday night's incident, I have received the application from Jilubhai Bhukal and we will investigate this matter," Pardva said

Sunday, August 26, 2012

MP plays Serengeti card to root for lions at Kuno.

Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN Aug 23, 2012, 03.59AM IST
NEW DELHI: Countering Gujarat's opposition to lion translocation project, the Madhya Pradesh government told the Supreme Court that a second habitat for Asiatic Lions in Kuno — cleared by National Board of Wildlife — was mandatory to avoid Tanzania's disastrous experience in Serengeti where outbreak of an epidemic almost wiped out the lion population.
Madhya Pradesh met with disdain Gujarat's apprehension about safety of lions. The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government did not deny the past lapses allowing poachers to wipe out entire tiger population in Panna, but said the new model of wildlife protection had got it laurels from many quarters and its efforts being replicated by other states.
"Although the state has been criticized severely for the extinction of tiger from the Panna National Park, the state has been in the last few years able to translocate and reintroduce tiger in the Panna National Park and currently can boast of new population of 14 tigers," the state said through its standing counsel Vibha Dutta Makhija.
"The efforts of the state have been duly recognized by Tiger Authority of India, which assessed the performance of the state of MP as outstanding," she said.
MP said Asiatic Lions continued to be in the Red List of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and hence, "must be relocated and reintroduced in an area which would be suitable alternative habitat for its survival in the event of outbreak of any epidemic".
On the suitability of Kuno Palpur Sanctuary, MP said it was the historical range of Asiatic Lion, though the modern habitat was limited to Gujarat's Gir forests. To avoid any disease posing grave threat to lions concentrated in one location, there was consensus among experts and scientists for setting up of a second free-ranging population of Asiatic Lions, it said.
MP said effort to establish second home for Asiatic Lions was first made in 1957 by examining the suitability of Chandraprabha Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh, but later in 2008, the National Board of Wildlife on February 18, 2008, unanimously recommended translocation of lions from Gujarat to Kuno Palpur, which was reiterated in December, 2009.
"With the highest technical body National Board for Wildlife taking a decision and confirming it after a review, the parties/stakeholders are required to implement the same and in the event of their non-implementation, it is open for the Supreme Court to direct the same," it said.
Gujarat had also objected translocation of lions to Kuno Palpur on the ground that the state was planning to reintroduce cheetahs there and that the cats could not co-exist.
MP said, "As far as introduction of cheetah is concerned, the said project is in its initial stage and is yet to be panned out. In view of the stay order passed by the Supreme Court on May 8, it is clear that presently the project of introduction of cheetah is not to be implemented, and thus, the said objection (of Gujarat) is infructuous."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Young lion found dead in Gir.

Express news service : Rajkot, Sat Aug 18 2012, 05:05 hrs
A one-year-old Asiatic lion was found dead at Khamba in the Dhari range of the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary on Friday. Forest officials ruled out any foul play, saying the animal might have died during infighting in a pride.
“Post mortem revealed injury marks around its neck. The injury seemed to be a result of infighting. It was very severe and proved fatal,” said deputy conservator of forest Anshuman Sharma.

500 artificial ponds to be filled up for thirsty lions in Gir National Park.

Himanshu Kaushik, TNN Aug 17, 2012, 06.39AM IST
AHMEDABAD: Junagadh district has received only 10 per cent of the rain it normally gets, forcing the forest department to put in place its contingency plan to ensure that lions' thirst is quenched.
The forest department has to keep replenishing more than 500 artificial waterholes in the Gir National Park and its periphery. However, the department is worried because there are no such arrangements for lion zones in Amreli, Bhavnagar and coastal areas.
Foresters said that due to deficient rainfall this year, water levels in rivers, ponds, and wells are plunging. The Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, also known as Sasan Gir, is the only abode of the Asiatic lions — their current population is 411. Other animals in the sanctuary include leopards, spotted deer, Nilgais, wild boars, and thousands of bird species and various reptiles. In the normal course, forest authorities stop filling the artificial waterholes in and around Gir by June 15 every year — unless it is required in summer. But nearly after a decade, the authorities are being forced to fill these ponds in August. The waterholes are filled twice a day.
Chief conservator of forests R L Meena said that the main worry is that the waterholes filled using wind and solar power will be rendered useless because the water level is falling drastically. He said that there are about 55 waterholes which are filled automatically. The department may have to provide supply to these waterholes too. "A water tanker of the forest department is making eight to ten trips a day," he said.
Senior officials said that with natural water getting exhausted, the forest department will have to get water from distant places. The department may have to call in more tankers to meet the demand. The water situation deteriorated when seven rivers — Hiran, Saraswati, Datardi, Shingoda, Machhundri, Ghodavadi, and Raval — passing through the sanctuary started drying up.

'Poaching threat to Gujarat lions in Madhya Pradesh'

Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN Aug 12, 2012, 12.20AM IST
NEW DELHI: The Gujarat government has reiterated it stand that some of Gir's lions can't be shifted to Madhya Pradesh because of rampant poaching in the neighbouring state. In the written submissions to the Supreme Court on Thursday after the final arguments were completed, the Modi government has said Madhya Pradesh has been unable to protect the tigers from poaching in Kanha and asked if it can be trusted with the safety of Gujarat's pride.
At the root of the fraternal fight between two BJP-ruled states is wildlife experts' concern that the concentration of the Asiatic lions in Gir at one site makes them vulnerable to extinction by epidemic of the kind that has been the cause of decimation of several other species. The Shivraj Singh Chauhan government reacted to the fear by offering to take the lions to MP's Kuno National Park that had been prepared to host tigers.
While the offer may have been motivated simply by the desire to boost MP's tourism potential, the Gujarat government sees it as a potential threat to its unique branding around the world as the sole sanctuary of the Asiatic lions in wild.
"At the time when Madhya Pradesh was filing affidavits in this court supporting direction for translocation, the tiger population in Madhya Pradesh was being decimated. Tigers were being poached regularly and the Madhya Pradesh forest officers and wild life staff were grossly negligent in protecting tigers," the Gujarat government has told the Supreme Court which is seized of a petition seeking safety of lions.
In an affidavit filed by Modi government's counsel, Hemantika Wahi, Gujarat has cited the finding of a special investigation team (SIT) report in 2009 to say "MP has no institutional capacity to protect existing tiger population which was being poached at several locations."
"The tiger population at Panna in Madhya Pradesh was around 25 in 2002. In seven years, the tiger population at Panna in April 2009 was 'zero'," the Gujarat government said as it sought to impress upon the Supreme Court that safety of the species must be considered paramount before implementing translocation project.
In Gujarat, the lions have been thriving - their population has risen from 180 in 1974 to 411 in 2010. The area of Gir's protected habitat has also expanded from 1,412 square km in 1974 to 10,500 square kilometers in 2010, argued the Gujarat government.
While "deplorable track record of MP" in protecting tigers as its chief objection, the Narendra Modi government has objected to MP's proposal by arguing that comprehensive scientific studies have not been carried on to assess whether Kuno can be the alternative location. It has called for a detailed assessment with the regard to availability of prey, suitability of conditions and other scientific and technical aspects ought to be carried out before the final call is taken.
It said the SIT report of 2009 recorded a finding that the maximum decline in the tiger population occurred between 2003 and 2005 which continued till 2008 and quoted section 12 of the Wild Life Act, which mandated that translocation may be done to "an alternative suitable habitat".
The Gujarat government said, "The notion of suitable habitat in the context of big cats includes a safe habitat where big cats are not poached. Given the recent record of the state of Madhya Pradesh were poaching has been rampant, no mandatory directions for translocation ought to be passed until a satisfactory track record over a number of years is proved by Madhya Pradesh."
"The facts on record establish the deplorable track record of Madhya Pradesh and it is too early to gauge whether there has been a systemic improvement and institutional change that would ensure the protection of big cats in Madhya Pradesh," the Modi government said.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gujarat Babudom resuffle: Six senior IAS officers transferred.

Published: Friday, Aug 10, 2012, 16:05 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: Gandhinagar | Agency: DNA
In a late evening development, state government transferred six senior IAS officials on Thursday. The move had become inevitable after some key posts fell vacant due to retirement of senior officials.
Varesh Sinha, additional chief secretary (ACS) who was heading home department has been transferred to finance department as additional chief secretary. The post was laying vacant after the retirement of MM Shrivastav, ACS on July 31.Sinha has been replaced in the home department by SK Nanda, principal secretary of state environment and forest department. Now, Nanda will be heading state home department as principal secretary.
State environment and forest department has got new man in the form of HK Dash, who was handling Narmada, water supply, and Kalpasar department as principal secretary. Rajiv Kumar Gupta, managing director of Gujarat State Civil Supplies Corporation will replace Dash.
K Srinivas, joint managing director of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) has been transferred as secretary, General Administration Department (personnel).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Leopard ‘killed’ in battle with villagers.

Express news service Posted: Aug 15, 2012 at 0425 hrs IST

Ahmedabad A young leopard was found dead on Tuesday near a village in Amreli district, reportedly stoned to death by irate villagers after the wild animal attacked three men who were out answering nature’s call in a nearby field.
Two of the men, who are siblings, were seriously injured and admitted to a government health facility at Khambha. The third man also reportedly broke an arm while running away when the animal attacked.
“I went to the site and saw the leopard’s body. It seems less than a year old and is no bigger than a dog. Apart from some blood oozing from the mouth, there were no signs of external wounds. A post mortem will be conducted,” said Anshuman Sharma, Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF), Gir (East).
He said villagers, including the sarpanch of Daldi village of Khambha taluka, about 6 to 7 km from where the animal’s corpse was found, had so far given little information about the incident.
Sharma said he would speak to the injured men in the hospital to piece together what exactly happened.
The three injured have been identified as Haji Abraham Naya (40), his younger brother Mohammad Abraham Naya (35) and another villager, Karu Bachu Sindhi (45). Haji was allegedly attacked first and his brother was subsequently injured by the leopard when he tried to save him. Sindhi ran for life, fell and broke his arm.
Villagers had earlier reportedly filed a complaint with the forest department about leopards in the area ravaging their livestock, but Sharma said he was unaware of it.

At least 10 people have reportedly been killed in attacks by leopards in Amreli district and neighbouring Junagadh this year.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Return of the Maldharis: Did forest dept know the secret?

Published: Friday, Aug 3, 2012, 16:34 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA
Did the forest department purposely turn a blind eye to the fact that Maldharis relocated from the Gir Sanctuary had been selling their land and returning to the sanctuary? Prima facie it seems it was indeed the case. For, there were several indications regarding the same, with even the CAG too pointing out irregularities in the matter.
A 2010 CAG report highlighted that between 1972 and 1978, 588 families were shifted out of the Gir protected area. The report stated that each relocated family was given eight acres of cultivable and grazing land, 600 sq meters of residential plot and Rs6,050. The report said that a total of 257 families were not shifted.
Of the 588 families that were relocated, 87 returned to the forests and began residing there with the authorization in the protected area, the report further said. According to the CAG report, adequate steps to prevent relocated Maldhari families from returning to the protected area were not taken.
“Consequently, the expenditure that was incurred on their earlier relocation towards farm lands, housing plots and cash, proved to be infructuous,” the report had then commented. A forest official, in know of the situation said that several of the Maldhari families that were relocated had indeed returned to the forest. “It is a known fact among the forest department and Gir officials that some of the relocated Maldharis had returned to the sanctuary and were living there,” said the official.
With the Maldharis returning, shouldn’t the officials have asked what happened to the land given to them? Apparently nobody bothered to look into the question with the result that several the community continued to sell their land to third parties. Even the CAG report apparently did not act as a wake up call. The matter only came to light after one Anil Chudasama filed a petition in the HC challenging the forest departments’ decision not to let him farm on a piece of land he bought from a Maldhari.
Chudasama had bought the land near Mendarada taluka from a Maldhari who was given the plot by government in 1982. In his affidavit he had alleged that the forest dept officials from time to time fined the Maldharis who had returned to Gir but did not bother to prosecute them. The Gir and its surrounding areas, is home to 411 lions as per the last census.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Courting the king.

Aug 7, 2012 :
Conservationists have hailed the Supreme Court’s recent judgement favouring translocation of native Asiatic lions from Gujarat to Rajasthan. Because the lion population at Gir is more than the sanctuary’s carrying capacity, it strays out in search of its own home range and creates trouble in other areas. The lion population is also vulnerable due to its homogenous gene pool, observes Arefa Tehsin
The Gir Wildlife Sanctuary is the last remaining home of the Asiatic lion and has throngs of tourists, all trying to catching a glimpse of the lion. Till 1850, the Asiatic lion population extended from Iran till the Indian subcontinent.

The lion found a place in mythology, historic emblems and tales from Iranian to Indian civilisations and kingdoms, from ancient times. By the beginning of the 20th century, the lion had already vanished from many parts of India. The last lion reported from Iran was in 1930.

The Asiatic lion was wiped away from its entire range, except the Junagarh forests of Gujarat. The far-sightedness of the Junagarh Nawab saved them from extinction. He requested the British Governor General to ban the hunting of lions quoting their numbers much less than actual figures. British officers were prohibited from hunting lions.

Much has changed since then and much remains the same – among them is Sinh Sadan. Made into a forest rest house, Sinh Sadan, with its beautiful cottages and gardens, celebrates its centenary this year. Tourists and guides line up early each morning in the guest house compound, which has a small but good information centre.

A limited number of safari permits are given for eight routes inside the sanctuary. Trackers, well-versed with the forest, start before the advent of tourists to locate the movement of lions. They inform guides about the presence of lions on different routes and early tourists are generally graced by a retreating lion or pride. The ones who come later can only catch the lions resting during the day.

Of the many tribal villages inside the forest, there is one that belongs to Africans who were brought here by the Nawab of Junagarh. Don’t be surprised if you find an African in a tracker’s uniform, speaking in Gujarati and walking behind a lion named Maulana.
The sanctuary management, especially the involvement of tribals based inside the forest, is commendable.

The well-protected and increasing number of lions (presently 411, which is more than its carrying capacity) wander outside the sanctuary in search of their own home ranges and create trouble in other areas.

If a natural disaster or an epidemic like canine distemper strikes, there is little hope for these last remaining Asiatic kings. The Wildlife Institute of India has found that the lion population of Gir, which has risen from a very small base, is additionally vulnerable due to its homogenous gene pool.

Though the efforts of the Gujarat government are admired and the point well-understood that the lion is their USP, for long-time conservation, it is required to build alternative homes for the lion.

The Bio-diversity Conservation Trust of India has fought a gruelling battle with the Gujarat government in this connection. Conservationists across India have hailed the Supreme Court’s recent judgement to put on hold the African Cheetah re-introduction programme in Kuno, Madhya Pradesh, in favour of translocating native Asiatic lions from Gujarat.

Moving to Kumbhalgarh

The judgement has given hope to wildlife conservator Raza H Tehsin’s proposal to the government of Rajasthan in April 2009 to introduce the Asiatic lion in Kumbhalgarh, a historical site which was recently declared National Park.

The Kumbhalgarh fort was built in the 15th century by Maharana Kumbha. The strong high wall of the fort is 36-km long, the second largest in the world after the Great Wall of China.

The wide enclosure of Kumbhalgarh Fort is lying vacant, except for the entrance, which has the chief structures of archaeological value – the fort and the main temple.
The rest of it is only a high parapet wall with a small human habitation, which will need to be relocated since it has been declared a national park.

The old wall can be repaired and a small wall can be constructed a few 100 meters from the entrance to separate the archaeological monuments from the enclosure. Once this is done there will be a 12-sq-km-wide enclosed area where the Asiatic lion can be preserved in semi-wild conditions. The wall will ensure that it is not able to leave the protected area.

Water holes can be made within this enclosure and ungulates already found in the national park released here. Once they are settled and their population increases, a pride of lions can be introduced. To ensure proper food to the lions, some buffaloes can also be released.

Boost for tourism

Lion safaris organised there will make the project self-sustaining and provide employment opportunities to the locals. Kumbhalgarh is located near Udaipur, the ‘City of Lakes’ and many tourists visit the fort. The lion safari will provide an additional attraction, thereby increasing tourists and revenues.

Once the Forest Department repairs and maintains the wall, it will lead to greater care of the archaeological site, which has suffered due to Archaeological Survey of India’s lack of resources. The enclosure will ensure less human interference and reduce thefts of idols from the temples.

After testing it for some time, the Asiatic lion can be introduced in wild conditions inside the sanctuary, where it will not have competition with the tiger for food, like the forests of Madhya Pradesh.

The fort is located at a height of 3,500 feet but lions are found in Africa at 5,000 feet and above as well. Reintroducing lions in Kuno is an excellent initiative.

But our knowledge of wild Asiatic lion is limited. Lions were released before in the forest of the then Central Province and United Province (now Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh). Most of them didn’t survive, and those who did, became man-eaters and had to be killed. 

It is evident that the high walls of Kumbhalgarh and the wide enclosed area are safe, cost-effective and an entirely workable proposition for the conservation of the Asiatic lion.
Learning lessons from history and making use of the initiative of BCTI, we should develop more homes for the last remaining gene pool of this majestic being. Today, the king of the forest sadly has to depend on mankind, the un-benevolent dictators of the planet, for its survival.

Evict illegal owners of Gir land: HC.

Source: DNA   |   Last Updated Aug 03, 2012, 06:03AM IST

Ahmedabad: There seems to be a big gap between the reality and the claims of the state government regarding efforts made for conservation of Asiatic Lions in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and its surrounding areas.

Last week, the Gujarat high court ordered the forest department to take back from owners other than Maldharis, those plots in Gir Sanctuary which were originally allotted to Maldharis for relocation.

This landmark order by Justice PB Majmudar and Justice Mohinder Pal clearly exposes an unholy nexus between influential people formed to corner vital tracts of forest land comprising core lion habitat, for non-forest purpose.

The nexus involves officials of the revenue department, forest department and scores of influential people of the state including IAS and IPS officers, MPs, MLAs and senior lawyers, who had purchased the land from Maldharis over the years.

Agencies of the state government have aided in the transfer of this land. Besides exposing greed, it also lays bare a serious turf war between the revenue and the forest departments over the ownership of land surrounding the Gir Sanctuary with both staking claim to it.

The background of the case is this. In 1982, in a bid to relocate Maldharis (cattle-rearers) away from their traditional habitat in the forests called ‘ness’, the state government had allotted 588 plots to them. The allocation was done on the condition that they will not sell the land.

However, over time, 292 Maldharis did sell this land to private entities on payment of premium and deletion, by the Collector’s office, of the condition that the land should not be transferred. This would allow cultivation and construction, among other activities. One Anil Chudasama bought a plot in Najapur (Chatariya) village along with 11 others in the area. He was actually the third purchaser of the plot but was prevented from undertaking agricultural activity on his plot by the forest department which claimed that it was reserve forest area.

Chudasama moved the high court against the forest department’s objection, saying that it was revenue land as its ownership was transferred by the Collectorate at that time. In a petition filed in 2009, he revealed that several other such plots allotted by the forest department to Maldharis had been sold off to the rich and mighty.

Chudasama further revealed that non-forest activities were going on in full steam on these plots but he was the only one being discriminated against. This drew the high court’s attention to the big scam in land at the Asiatic lion’s abode. Justice MR Shah appointed advocate Amit Panchal as the amicus curiae in the case and asked him to visit the region and give a report on the situation.

In his report, the amicus curiae stated that out of the 11 plots in Najapur village, 9 plots had been sold off by the Maldharis who had returned to the sanctuary. The court finally ordered that the forest department should take possession of the said plots “immediately”, and said that the land belongs to the forest department and all non-forest activity should be stopped at the earliest. Chudasama’s plot is not covered by this order for now.

400 water points in Gir to be filled up for animals.

Vadodara, Aug 1 (PTI) In the wake of delayed monsoon in Saurashtra region, the Gujarat government has made special arrangements to fill water at more than 400 points in Gir National Park, housing various wild animals including Asiatic lions, to quench their thirst.

Sudeep Kumar Nanda, Principal Secretary (Forest and Environment) said that due to deficient rainfall this year depleting water levels in rivers, ponds, wells and kundis which serve Gir, have created big problems for animals at the Sanctuary.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wildlife NGOs resume work, but await showdown with forest dept on Aug 1.

VADODARA: Scanty rains in the country may spell drought, but for Vadodara residents, less rains also mean less encounters with the wildlife, especially the reptiles, who come out in droves when it rains.
This is also proving to be blessings of sorts for both the administration as well as the residents, since the wildlife NGOs in the city are in confrontation with the forest and wildlife department over certain new conditions imposed by the department. The NGOs, who had gone on strike over the new rules, have resumed work since last week, but it's still an uneasy truce. The matter would come up for discussion on August 1 when senior department officials from Gandhinagar arrive here for a meeting with NGOs.
"The new rules say that we have to inform the department every time we go to attend a rescue call. Further, we have been asked to deposit the animal or reptile with the forest department within half an hour of catching it. Now, this is proving to be a bone of contention since, on an average rainy day, we get over 25-30 calls and if, every time, we had to make a trip back to the department to drop the reptile, we would be able to attend only a fraction of those calls. The new rule is neither practical, nor does it make any sense, especially when the wildlife act says that we have to deposit the animals/reptiles within 48 hours," said a volunteer with one of the NGOs.
After organizing a strike for one week, the NGOs started attending distress calls from residents after a meeting with Vadodara-based forest department official, R G Prajapati, who, reportedly assured that that the new rules could be discussed at the August 1 meeting. It helped that scanty rains are keeping reptiles mostly in their own habitats, instead of straying into homes and gardens, as was the case at the beginning of rainy season. "The matter has to reach a conclusion," said the head of one NGO.
Box: Reptiles rescued
A cobra was rescued on Monday morning from ONGC campus where it had entered a room cooler, and was unable to come out. Later, in the afternoon, a rat snake was spotted in the school inside the campus, forcing the authorities to again send a distress call to Crocodile group, which had rescued the cobra earlier. "We have been getting four to five calls these days even if it is not raining," said the volunteer. Two days ago, the NGOs and the forest department rescued a 6-foot crocodile from a village near Jhambughoda where it had come out of a pond only to slip into a freshly dug well nearby. The volunteers drained water equal to 15-20 tanker loads with the help of pumping machines to rescue the crocodile.