Saturday, March 30, 2013

Big leopard numbers in human habitats: Study.

(File picture of a leopard…)
Amit Bhattacharya, TNN Mar 21, 2013, 12.49AM IST

NEW DELHI: Most people think of leopards as predators that live in forests except for a few that occasionally stray into human settlements. Breaking that myth, a new study has found that a large number of these big cats may be residing in human habitats, quietly sharing space with people in villages, farmlands and even on the edge of towns.

The study was conducted in a densely populated valley in Akole tehsil of Ahmednagar district in western Maharashtra, where researchers set up camera traps in 40 locations for a month to gather evidence of wildlife in this prosperous sugarcane belt.
The results were startling. A total of 81 leopard images were captured across a sampled area of 179 sq km, in which five distinct adult males and six adult females were identified.
Two females were clicked with cubs and a third gave birth six months later — all in an area with a population density of 357 people per square km.
Using a GIS-based software, the researchers estimated animal density at five leopards (4.8) per 100 sq km. That's not all. As many striped hyaenas (5.03/100sq km) were found in the area, taking the number of large predators in the landscape to 10 per 100 sq km. The findings were published on March 6 in the Public Library of Science journal.
"Nowhere in the world have such large number of big predators been reported in such densely populated human landscape," said Vidya Athreya, a wildlife biologist with Wildlife Conservation Society, India, who is the lead author of the study carried out in collaboration with the Maharashtra forest department.
The big cat's density in Akole tehsil was found to be higher than some national parks. In Rajaji, for instance, distribution of leopards is reported to be just 2.07/100 sq km following an increase in tiger numbers. Overall, leopard density in India's protected forests is 15/100 sq km.
Athreya said with the nearest protected forest some 18km away, there was little doubt that the big cats were living in "human areas", mainly in sugarcane fields. "The leopards were marking their territories on roads and on bunds in sugarcane fields. This was as much their land as it was of the people," she said.
During daytime, the felines would sit very still in the fields, often just a few hundred metres from houses. "However, the night made the leopard king. They even went close to houses to kill dogs, cats and goats," Athreya reported.
Akole tehsil is by no means an isolated example. Athreya said leopards can be found across the sugarcane belts of western Maharashtra, Gujarat and western UP, as well as the tea-growing areas of Bengal, Assam and south India.
Remarkably, no human deaths were reported from the study area. Athreya believes this is so because the leopard population in the area is more or less settled. "Leopards instinctively shun humans. That's particularly true of an animal that has grown up in the same area. We found one of our radio-collared leopards visited a particular house every few days without ever disturbing its residents, who sleep in the open," she said.

In contrast, serious leopard attacks were reported from neighbouring forested areas which happen to be close to administrative borders. Athreya believes most of these attacks were because big cats trapped in human habitats were often released in these areas. "A relocated leopard is disoriented and unpredictable," she added.
The study calls for a shift in the concept of conservation, which is focused solely on protected areas. "The presence of big predators in human landscapes throws up challenges which conservationists haven't yet begun to understand," Athreya said.

Pair of Asiatic lions coming to city zoo.

TNN Mar 12, 2013, 06.37AM IST

KANPUR: A pair of Asiatic lions will soon be part of the Kanpur zoo. The veterinarian at the zoo will be leaving on Tuesday for Hyderabad zoo to examine the health of the lions, their present living conditions and the enclosure in which they reside. The pair will be transported to the Kanpur zoo by road and similarly a rhinoceros will be transported to Hyderabad zoo. The cage in which the lion pair is to be brought to Kanpur zoo will also be examined by the veterinarian. Though he will not bring back with him the pair of lions, the zoo authorities will make necessary arrangements at Kanpur zoo once the vet is back. The lions are expected to be here before Holi.

Talking to TOI, Dr RK Singh zoo veterinarian confirmed he was leaving for Hyderabad on Tuesday and will be carrying out the important task of inspecting the health of the lion pair. He said before Holi the lions will reach Kanpur zoo and that he will be back earlier for necessary preparations. Dr Singh added that lions were a part of Kanpur zoo earlier, therefore, not much is to be done except construction of night enclosures.
The tiger Guddu will be shifted to another enclosure to make place for the pair of Asiatic lions. Tiger Guddu will be shifted to the enclosure next to the one occupied by tigers Abhay and Trusha and their three eight-month-old cubs. Apart from the construction of the new enclosure, three night cells will be made for the three cubs which are growing up.
"Trusha and its cubs are in one enclosure and man-eater tiger Prashant and Abhay take turns coming out into it from the night cell. The present enclosure of tiger Abhay will be renovated. The height of the boundary wall will be increased and fortified," said Singh, adding, "Also, Prashant and Abhay will get independent enclosures. The tigers will be able to do movement and exercise as well due to the large space that will be available to them."
"The height of the wall of the zebra enclosure situated next to the enclosure of Guddu will be increased. The moat area will be cleaned and the existing night cells will be repaired. We will go as per the layout plan chalked out today," added Dr Singh.

How Many Asiatic Cheetahs Roam across Iran?

March 29, 2013
How many Asiatic cheetahs still prowl on the planet earth? Compared to their African cousins, the Asiatic cheetah is more imperiled and known to be a critically endangered subspecies. Yet, no reliable estimates of its population are available despite such statistics being required as essential input for conservation and management plans. Despite this, several organizations did not tarry to find answers and to initiate conservation attempts.
The historical distribution of this member of the cat family used to range across diverse   and vast areas from the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to the Peninsula of Arabia and Syria. In 1977 the last cheetah was recorded in Oman and it is believed that today the Asiatic cheetah’s population is confined to the Iran’s boundary. Observation records show that cheetahs have ceased to roar across the terrains of Saudi Arabia (1973), Pakistan (1972), India (1947), Kuwait (1942) and Iraq (1929), according to Hooshang Ziaie’s Field Guide to the Mammals of Iran.
The evidence pointing towards the cheetahs’ extinction from its formerly inhabited regions was strong enough to convince international and national organizations to take an action. In 2001, the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) and Global Environmental Facility (GEF) funded a four-year conservation project with the budget of $725,000. Iran’s Department of Environment (DoE) also supposed to provide the same amount of budget in kind. However, the project was prolonged for 8 years; and DoE contributed more than the aforementioned tranche. The project, called the Conservation of Asiatic Cheetah and Its Habitat Project (CACP), was assisted by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and later by the Panthera organization. Additionally, several Iranian NGOs cooperated with CACP, conducting field surveys and enhancing the awareness of local people.
In 2009, a team consisting of Iranian and international consultants evaluated whether the outcomes of project concurred with its original goals of the proposal. The evaluation was difficult for the following reasons: repeated extensions of the project’s duration lasted; related fluctuations in managerial boards of the project (up to evaluation period, both the national and international project directors changed four times each. Changes repeated one more time for both positions after the assessment); a serious dispute over a lack of findings between a contracted Iranian NGO, on one hand, and DoE and UNDP, on the other; difficulties for staff and equipment of WCS, an important scientific partner, to enter the country due to delayed visa issuance; and finally practical problems such as miscommunication between the international and national evaluators in terms of technical language.
Regardless of these problems, however, a consistent issue across the board and mentioned repeatedly in the evaluation report is that the first and most prominent question has not been answered since initiation of the project: what is a reliable estimate of the cheetahs’ population in Iran? While answering this formidable question is necessary for the design of a conservation plan, including the setting of priorities and identification of habitat hot spots, it is an arduous effort. The cheetahs’ low number, intense shyness, and ability to camouflage make the search for these individuals scattered across the habitats of two vast Iranian deserts akin to finding a needle in a haystack. “It is assumed that the cheetah population has even increased in recent years, but neither the initial baseline information nor the newest population estimates are reliable enough to assess this assumption”, according to evaluation report.
Some sporadic attempts at camera-trapping have been carried out to estimate the number of cheetahs since CACP began, but none proved to be adequate. “In ten years of setting out scores of cameras, Iranian researchers have so far managed to obtain a mere 192 fleeting images. Those images document 76 gaunt individuals, pretty much all that remains of a noble subspecies of cheetah that once roamed throughout much of Asia”, writes Roff Smith in a November 2012 National Geographic article.
Dr. Luke Hunger, President of Panthera, the organization assisting the CACP in scientific work, told me: “incidentally, the most up to date figure is 77 individuals. This is not a population estimate, it is just the total number of known individuals photographed since 2001; most of those animals are now dead.”
In the same month that the issue of National Geographic was published, the director of DoE cited at least 50 individual cheetahs to be living in Iran. Previously, it was presumed that Iran has a cheetah population revolving around 70-120 individuals, based on Iranian biologists’ guesstimations. Subsequently, complementary information about the cheetahs’ status has been released. “Scientific and comprehensive camera-trapping has been conducted in 7 out of 9 cheetah habitats. Preliminarily analysis revealed that at least 50 individual cheetahs exist in Iran,” Hooman Jowkar, the latest national director of CACP, said on a TV broadcast. He, in a recently published interview, said that just 20 individual cheetahs were identified through 200 images taken by camera-traps. However, this number of individual cheetahs is not representative of the species’ total population in Iran.
Dr. Hunter pointed out that the number is uncertain: “We simply do not have a good estimate of the cheetah’s population. I am worried that the recent camera-trapping results were less positive than in the past, so it is possible the numbers are as low as 50 cheetahs. But we cannot say that for certain. The best we can probably say is somewhere between 50 to 100 individuals.”
Addressing possible reasons for uncertainty in the estimate Jowkar noted in a wildlife conference held in Teheran: “the focus is just on specific protected areas; and it is not possible to conduct camera-trapping during fall and winter when cheetah is physically most active. Occurrence of livestock in those habitats is the most important challenge. Also, the method should be repeated in the next year in order to produce more reliable results.”
The second phase of CACP had been initiated in January 2009 to run as a four-year project with a budget of $4 million funded by national and international organizations. Recently, it was announced that the project will be extended until 2015. The news brought renewed hope and enthusiasm that not only the population size of the Asiatic cheetah could be scientifically estimated at last, but also that a conservation strategy plan will be compiled. To design and implement such plan could save the cheetah from the blade edge of extinction.
Image: Drawing by H. Weir, 1885. Routledge’s Picture Natural History by the Rev. J. G. Wood, engraved by the Dalziel brothers.
Sam KhosravifardAbout the Author: Sam Khosravifard has been working as a freelance journalist focusing on Iran’s wildlife and natural resources issues since 1997 . He is the author of two books, the Natural Heritage of Iran and Persian Lion of Iran. “The raccoon: an uninvited guest” is the name of a documentary which was directed by him to demonstrate how the exotic species could be a threat for the new environment. Sam received Erasmus Mundus scholarship for post-graduate studies and the second award of the environment and media festival held by Iran’s Department of Environment in 2010. Also, in 2006, he received Iran Heritage Award for directing the raccoon documentary. Currently, he is a PhD candidate majoring in natural resources management at University of Twente, The Netherlands.
The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

New den for 'orphaned' lion cubs.

Four-and-a-half month old Asiatic lion cubs Kamran and Ketan play in their new home (PA)
A pair of lion cubs who lost their father and were disowned by their mother have bounced back to become the pride of the zoo.

Rare Asiatic lion cubs Kamran and Ketan delighted visitors when they were allowed out to play in their new enclosure for the first time.
Born at Bristol Zoo last year, the duo have already been through a lot. In a tragedy worthy of Disney's Lion King, their father Kamal died just 12 days later.
The brothers then had to be hand-reared by staff after they were rejected by their mother Shiva.
"The initial transition was a very important time for the cubs," said Lynsey Bugg, Assistant Curator of Mammals.
"We placed straw from their previous enclosure on the ground for familiarity, and gave each cub a cuddly toy to snuggle into to mimic mum."
Now four-month-old Kamran and Ketan have the whole enclosure to themselves, complete with their very own den.
Staff at the zoo are thrilled with their progress. "They're inquisitive and energetic so the enclosure is the perfect place for them to explore," said Mrs Bugg.
"They're thriving. We're almost completely hands off with them now. They're very playful with each other and are happy and confident in their new home."
Asiatic lions are a critically endangered species with just 350 estimated to be left in the wild.

Wildcat gifts for city zoo.

Wednesday , March 27 , 2013- Lions & leopards arrive from Gujarat after 4-day journey
Bhubaneswar, March 26: A pair of Asiatic lions and leopards, gifted to the Nandankanan Zoological Park by the Sakkarbaug Zoo in Junagadh, Gujarat, reached here last night.
A four-member team from Nandankanan, which included assistant director of the zoo K.L. Purohit, a veterinary doctor and two animal keepers, left Bhubaneswar for Junagadh on March 17. They reached there three days later. The journey back to Bhubaneswar began on March 22.
While the animals were brought in four iron cages, the authorities had to cease travelling during the day to avoid heat-related stress. “We used to start our journey after sunset. During the day, we ensured that the animals got sufficient rest near forest areas. We had to take permissions from the forest officials concerned to arrange shelters for us and the animals,” said Purohit.
The team halted at three places — Bharuch in Gujarat, Akola in Maharashtra and Sambalpur in Odisha — before reaching Nandankanan.
During the journey, the animals were given anti-stress medicines, glucose and oral rehydration salts such as Electral to prevent dehydration.
They were fed only during the day. Though they used to be fed around 5kg buffalo meat everyday at Sakkarbaug Zoo, they were served around one-and-half kilograms of chicken during transit. At present, each of them is being given 7kg buffalo meat and chicken.
The health condition of the animals was monitored every three hours. It took the team nearly 96 hours to reach Nandankanan from Junagadh, during which they covered around 2,200km.
Each of the iron cages used for transporting the animals weighed around five quintals. Sources in the zoo said that the animals would remain in quarantine for about 20 days before the public can see them.
“They have been kept in enclosures outside the exhibition area. The quarantine period is vital as symptoms of diseases can be spotted during this time. That would prevent any communicable diseases from spreading to other zoo inmates,” said a senior zoo officer.
While the lion is about 12 years old, the lioness is 11. The male leopard is five and the female is three. The arrival of the new guests has bolstered the lion and leopard population of Nandankanan.
Now, the zoo has 13 lions and seven leopards, including the new arrivals. The zoo authorities had been trying to get a pair of lions, as their dwindling numbers were a cause of concern.
Though the Nandankanan zoo used to have more than 50 lions about 12 years ago, the population fell to 11. Out of these one is nine years old, while others are in the age group of 15 to 20.
No lions were born at the zoo in the last eight years. The last lion born was in 2004-05.

Denver Zoo Lion 'Tawny' Euthanized During Surgery .

Tawny Lion Denver Zoo Posted:   |  Updated: 03/01/2013 8:18 pm EST Tawny, a 15-year-old South African lion living in the Denver Zoo, was euthanized Wednesday
One of the Denver Zoo's beloved lions, Tawny, was euthanized on Wednesday due to "several critical health issues" that were discovered during an emergency exploratory surgery.
Tawny was a 15-year-old South African lion who had been with the Denver Zoo since it opened "Predator Ridge" in 2004.
"This is always so difficult," Denver Zoo Curator of Large Mammals Hollie Colahan said in a news release. "She was an excellent mom and guests voted her Mother of the Year in 2005. She was a wonderful animal and we will miss her very much."
In September of 2004, Tawny gave birth to Saba, Sukari and Kamau. Zookeepers told 9News that at the time, she would even give up her favorite bones to her cubs.
Recently however, zookeepers had been noticing lameness in Tawny's front right leg and said that she began refusing food last week.
"Tawny was not going to be able to recover from these serious issues, and the most humane option was euthanasia," staff veterinarian Betsy Stringer said. "This is never an easy decision, but it was the right one."
The Denver Zoo says the median life span of a zoo lion is 16.8 years, and that they may be bracing for more loss to come. The zoo currently has 5 adult lions who are all age 15.

Eastcott vets perform surgery on lion with a fractured tooth.

Peter Southerden, the director and founder of Eastcott Vets, with vet Andrew Perry carrying out the dental work on Shiva the lion Peter Southerden, the director and founder of Eastcott Vets, with vet Andrew Perry carrying out the dental work on Shiva the lion
Eastcott Vets’ director Peter Southerden and colleague Andrew Perry have performed surgery on hundreds of cats.
But they were required to put their skills to use on a bigger cat than usual last week.
When the pair received a call for help from Bristol Zoo, they were only too happy to come to the rescue.
The patient was Shiva, an eight-year-old Asiatic lion who lives at Bristol Zoo. Shiva had managed to fracture a lower canine tooth after the distress of losing her mate, Kamal, 10 days earlier, not long after the birth of her two cubs.
As with humans, a broken or fractured tooth can cause severe pain. In the longer term it can result in the development of an abscess which can be debilitating and have far-reaching effects.
Peter, a specialist in dentistry and oral surgery, said: “The tooth fracture would have caused Shiva considerable pain and, although Shiva is a little bigger than our regular patients weighing in at 22 stone, her needs are no different, and so we were very pleased to be able to help.”
Given that the root of Shiva’s tooth was more than three inches long and makes up half the volume of the front of the jaw, removal of the tooth would have been very traumatic and would run the risk of breaking the jaw during normal use after surgery.

Peter and Andrew are two of a small group of veterinary surgeons in the UK who perform advanced treatments, such as root canal therapy, regularly.
Once Shiva was safely asleep, they were able to carry out a root filling and, although the tooth will always be shortened, it will be pain-free, functional, and last the whole of her life.
Peter, who carried out a similar operation on Kamal last year, said: “It was very rewarding to be able to use these skills to treat such a magnificent patient.”
Andrew, who has a primary interest in veterinary dentistry and maxillo-facial surgery, said: “It’s always an honour to work with these magnificent creatures.
“But we’re very glad to have such skilled anaesthetists to work with.
“We expect Shiva to make a rapid recovery.”

Lion-Meat Ban Shines Light on Wild-Animal Meat

Eating carnivores like lions and bears not a good idea, expert says.

A lion meat patty shown ready to cook.
A lion-meat patty is shown at Il Vinaio Restaurant in Mesa, Arizona, in a 2010 picture.
Photograph by Matt York, AP
Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News

Published March 12, 2013

An Illinois state representative wants to ban lion meat from his state, raising an obvious question: just who is eating this stuff?
Illinois Rep. Luis Arroyo's Lion Meat Act would make it "unlawful for any person to slaughter a lion or for any person to possess, breed, import or export from this State, buy, or sell lions for the purpose of slaughter."
Arroyo says he believes at there are at least two sites in Illinois selling African lion meat, according to the Associated Press, though the legislator did not identify them by name.
Crawford Allan, an illegal wildlife trade expert for the conservation group World Wildlife Fund, said lions are farmed for meat in the United States to sell in restaurants.
"We have no evidence that lion trade in the U.S. is illegal," he said.
Richard Czimer, owner of Czimer's Game and Sea Foods Inc. in Homer Glen, Illinois, sometimes buys USDA-certified lion meat.
In his view, Arroyo's proposed lion-meat ban is "trying to curtail a choice" in what people eat.
"He's discriminating against all my customers and everybody who wants to try something new," said Czimer.
Czimer pointed out that hundreds of thousands of cattle are killed per day, while there are far fewer lions killed. In 2012 for instance, Czimer was able to purchase only two lions.
Yet "eating carnivores is mostly not a good idea," argued Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, a U.S. based wild-cat conservation group that works with National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative.
For one, carnivore populations worldwide are dwindling—the African lion is listed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and is endangered in certain West African countries. (See lion pictures.)
Though wild lions aren't killed for food, there's concern that weak or poorly regulated laws regarding the ownership, breeding, and trade of captive big cats in the U.S.—in particular tigers—could fuel the black market for big-cat parts, Will Gartshore, senior program officer for U.S. Government Relations at WWF, said in an email.
Handling wild-carnivore carcasses can also be dangerous, Hunter said. Since the predators end up eating so many different animals, they accumulate parasites and diseases. In 2007, for instance, a biologist in Arizona contracted primary pneumatic plague after dissecting a cougar carcass and died shortly after.
Added Luke Dollar, grant-program director of the Big Cats Initiative: "While these aren't lions that have a realistic chance of roaming the African plains some day, the use of them for food animals has to be considered ethically questionable."
Exotic Meat on the Menu
Of course, that doesn't stop some people from consuming exotic meat. In the United States, some people eat legally hunted black bear—which is not considered threatened—Hunter said, especially in late autumn after the animal has foraged all summer.
The U.S.-based company Exotic Meats and More sells such oddities as iguana, llama, camel, according to its website. A similar purveyor, Buy Exotic Meats, offers emu, yak, and snapping turtle, among other animals.
Eating African lion meat is unusual around the world—including on the predator's home continent, where the meat is not considered palatable, Hunter said.
Yet there is a taste for meat of threatened wild animals in other parts of the world—"too many species to list," said Allan.
For example, he said that rare species on the menu include great apes in West and Central Africa; sturgeon caviar worldwide; freshwater turtles and tortoises in Asia; Asiatic black bears for bear paw soup in China; marine turtles in Latin America and the Caribbean, West Africa, and Southeast Asia; and some whales in Japan, South Korea, and Iceland.
Wild Animals Fair Game in Asia
By far the most exotic meat consumers live in Asia, where "most wild species are fair game," Hunter noted. "In Thailand in Vietnam, there are often wild meats available in restaurants"—including tiger.
In some Asian countries, tourist attractions called tiger parks secretly operate as front operations for tiger farming—butchering captive tigers for their parts and offering a potential market for wild-tiger poachers too, according to National Geographic magazine's 2010 story on Asia's wildlife trade.
"Tibetans wear tiger-skin robes; wealthy collectors display their heads; exotic restaurants sell their meat; their penis is said to be an aphrodisiac; and Chinese covet their bones for health cures, including tiger-bone wine, the 'chicken soup' of Chinese medicine," that article reported.
Hunter estimates there are between 4,000 to 5,000 tigers in captivity that are being bred for their parts and meat. (See pictures of tigers in trouble.)
Lion bones from Africa are being traded to China as a substitute for tiger bones for tonic wine as well, WWF's Allan noted.
Panthera's Hunter said that Illinois's Lion Meat Act would be more effective if it promoted "conservation on the ground, rather than banning a fairly inconsequential trade of lion meat in the state," he said. (Learn how you can help protect big cats.)
"People might spend 10-to-15 bucks on a gourmet lion burger—I'd rather that .... they spend that on a conservation organization working to protect cats in the wild."

Forest dept takes measure to fill natural, artificial water sources in Gir.

Express news service : Ahmedabad, Mon Mar 25 2013, 13:42 hrs

As Saurashtra stares at a season of water scarcity, the forest department has begun desilting work on dried wells inside the Gir forest, dug new bores and employed tankers to fill natural and artificial water sources.
Deputy Conservator of Forests (Gir East) Anshuman Sharma said, "We have dug 16 new bores in this season to supplement the 150 artificial water points that exist and staff are doing a daily round to check if there are any deficiencies of water."
Desilting of wells is also being undertaken in the 23-odd hamlets inside the forest where pastoralists live, Sharma added. He also said some outward pastoral movements are being detected but not in "alarming proportions", and most are heading towards sugarcane fields for fodder, a traditional practice.
Deputy Conservator of Forests (Gir West) Dr K Ramesh said several dried up wells in the 27-odd areas have been desilted, and tankers do the rounds of the more than 300 water points across the forest.
"The pastoralists here have stocked up on fodder and that has not run out as yet. There is a bit of a problem with drinking water but it is manageable," he said.

Gir tourists double in 2012.

Himanshu Kaushik, TNN Mar 19, 2013, 01.14PM IST

AHMEDABAD: The Asiatic lion in its last abode is proving to be a huge draw for tourists across the country. The flow of visitors is growing with each passing year. On an average about 1260 daily tourists have visited Gir forest in the year 2012. This was just 417 odd tourists in the year 2010-11.
In a written reply to the question of Talala MLA, Jasubhai Barad, forest and environment minister Ganpat Vasava said that in Sasan, from April 1 to December 31, 2012, a total of 3.02 lakh tourists visited the Gir forest. The reply stated that as there are three more months for the financial year to close, the numbers will be very high.

The minister said that this figure was only 1.50 lakh in the year 2010-11. In 2011-12, this number increased to 1.72 lakh but in 2012-13, there was a sudden rush and the figure crossed to 3.02 tourists.
The minister said that the increase in the number of tourists was only because of the campaign 'Khushboo Gujarat Ki'.
Officials at Gir said that the sanctuary had on November 14, received a record 9,384 tourists. This is 27% higher than the highest recorded number in the past few years. The previous best was 7,356 tourists in a single day last year.
Sources in the forest department said that looking at the rush, the forest department was forced to introduce additional 20-seater buses. Since the number of individual permits was only 150 a day, it was not easy to meet the rush and it was decided to have 20-seater buses. Last year, two such buses were pressed into service, but in 2012, 12 such buses were pressed into service in the Gir sanctuary with 14 other buses at the Devalia interpretation zone.
The heavy tourist inflow also paved way for large scale infrastructural growth. In the past one year, the number of hotel rooms has doubled in the area from 200 to over 450.

Ten tigers to be radio-collared in Sunderbans.

Krishnendu Mukherjee, TNN Mar 29, 2013, 04.47AM IST

KOLKATA: The forest department has decided to radio-collar ten tigers in the Sunderbans, where population dynamics of the big cats has always remained a mystery. And this time, an advanced set of radio collars, which helped scientists track tigers in Nepal and lions in Gir, will be used in the mangroves.
A team of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) officials, led by senior scientist Y V Jhala, is likely to visit the mangroves in April for the first leg of the exercise. However, a forest department official said the number of tigers to be collared during their first visit will only be decided after consulting the WII scientists. "The dates for their visit is yet to be finalized," said the official.

It may be noted that a total of five tigers, two adult females and three adult males, were radio-collared by the WII scientists in the Sunderbans in 2010. Satellite collars were used for this purpose. Sources said radio-collaring helps experts gauge the home range of tigers, which in the long run comes handy in establishing the density of the big cats. The study had then revealed that the tigers' home ranges hovered between 190 to 200 square kilometres.
Though large home range indicates lesser density, as a tiger's home range depends on prey density and territory of other tigers, in Sunderbans the exercise didn't yield the desired result then as several collars stopped working within a few days of its deployment.
WII's Y V Jhala said that some data on the tigers' home range and territory could not be established then. "But this time, we have made some changes in the circuitry of the collars to make these robust ones. We have used these collars on lions at Gir and they have even functioned at a stretch for a year. So, this time we expect to get a more reliable data," he said, adding that they are hoping to collar all the ten tigers in a year's time.
However, the exercise then managed to establish the fact that there is tiger movement between the Indian and Bangladesh Sunderbans. "The Khatuajhuri male, which was a stray animal, had crossed the Harinbhanga river to enter the Talpati island of Bangladesh Sunderbans," revealed a WII scientist.
Tracking of the radio-collared tigers had also revealed that there was a general trend of higher movement rate by the tigers during the day time. However, soon after this study the WII scientists decided to radio collar a minimum of 10 tigers, of which 4-6 in a contagious area of 300-400 square kilometres, to understand home range overlap and territoriality. "The exercise to be conducted now will help the scientists understand whether and how Sunderbans tigers protect their territory," said an official.
Meanwhile, the camera trapping exercise, being done jointly by the forest department and WWF-India, is over in two ranges of the mangroves - Sajnekhali and National Park East. "The exercise is on at the Basirhat range. We will start withdrawing the cameras laid at Basirhat from April 11 and hope to give a density for the entire tiger reserve area by the end of April," said WWF-India's Sunderbans chapter head Anurag Danda. After identification, the photographs will be sent to the National Tiger Conservation Authority so that the Sunderbans tigers can be counted in the UID-type databank.

Rs661 crore for forest and environment approved by Gujarat Government.

DNA | Mar 21, 2013, 05:17AM IST

Ahmedabad: The Gujarat Assembly on Wednesday passed budgets of Rs661 crore for forest & environment and Rs7,345 crore for tribal development in the state. Senior Congress MLAs, belonging to tribal communities and representing constituencies with forest areas, raised concerns about tribal development during the debate over the budgetary demands.
Deputy leader of the Congress legislative party and MLA from Chhota Udepur constituency, Mohansinh Rathwa said that instead of utilising money allocated to its own tribal development department, the present state government has set up an agency called Development Support Agency Gujarat (DSAG). Demanding that the agency should be closed down, Rathwa alleged that the state government has received Rs250 crore from Centre but the money has been kept in the banks and not utilised for the development of the tribal areas. 
Another non-tribal MLA from Talala Gir forest area, Jashu Barad, talked about the plight of people living in the forest fringe areas. He said there are issues of boundaries of villages, which fall under the forest area. Along with the rise in lion population, number of people living in the villages, which are located inside the forest, have also increased and in the absence of village land these villagers have to live on the mercy of the forest guards, because they can arrest them saying that they have entered in the jungle.

Uncovering India’s Siddi Community.

March 24, 2013, 9:00 AM By Shanoor Seervai
Ketaki Sheth
Celebrating Urs, Jambur, 2006.
Ketaki Sheth first encountered the Siddi in 2005 on a family holiday to the Gir forest in Gujarat. This community of African origin would become her photographic obsession.

Over the next seven years she traveled to remote towns and villages, mostly in Gujarat and Karnataka, taking pictures of the Siddi, an ethnic group from east Africa that came to India more than 400 years ago.
Ms. Sheth’s work culminates in a book of black and white photographs, “A Certain Grace: The Sidi, Indians of African Descent,” which went on sale Friday.
On her first visit to Jambur, a Siddi village in the northwest Indian state of Gujarat, she saw three boys playing carom outside a store selling beedis, or hand-rolled cigarettes. She says they gave her a look of condescension that confirmed her fears of being perceived as another typical tourist, even though she didn’t have her camera.
She continued to visit Jambur and Sirwan, the village where she’d first encountered the Siddi, and gradually developed relationships with the people who lived there.
Using a 30-year-old medium format film camera, a Mamiya 6, Ms. Sheth pays close attention to the personality traits and circumstances of the people she photographs. The delicate details of the landscape, the cracked paint of whitewashed walls and shadows of overhanging trees, don’t detract from their stories.
Ketaki Sheth
Hirbaiben Lobi on her three-acre farm, Jambur, 2005.
Ms. Sheth became close friends with Hirbaiben Lobi, whose success as an entrepreneur is evident in a photograph on her three-acre farm in Jambur. Beneath the shade of palm trees, with her right hand on her hip, she stares defiantly into the camera. Her jewelry glints under the sun, adding to this portrait of fierce independence.
“When I told her we have to chase the light, she must have thought I was nuts, but she did it anyway,” says Mumbai-based Ms. Sheth.
After photographing the Siddi over the years, from Gujarat to the Manchikeri forests of Karnataka, Ms. Sheth knew she wanted to publish a book.
Along with portraits and scenes of daily life, Ms. Sheth’s pictures depict how the Siddi community has embraced Indian Sufism while retaining some of the song and dance traditions of its African heritage. Her work tackles complex questions of diaspora and belonging, not least in how the Siddi differ from Africans of Indian origin.
“Celebrating Urs, Jambur, 2006,” captures a group of children at an annual festival to commemorate an ancestral Sufi saint. Two of the children smile shyly into the camera, but the rest seem blissfully unaware that they are being photographed, and continue to dance and clap.
Ketaki Sheth
Ramzamma laughs when asked if she is pregnant with her first child. It is actually her fourth, Jambur 2005.
In another image, a woman called Ramzamma throws her head back and laughs with contagious abandon. The caption explains that she was asked if she was pregnant with her first child, when it was actually her fourth.
Ramzamma emerges from the page, confident and good-natured in spite of the challenges that she will likely face raising a fourth child in a relatively poor Indian village. Ms. Sheth captures this story of motherhood with a compassion that resonates across cultures.
These are portraits that speak to a common humanity.
“A Certain Grace: The Sidi, Indians of African Descent,” photographs by Ketaki Sheth with essays by Mahmood Mamdani and Rory Bester, costs 1,500 rupees ($28).

Not a single case of poaching, yet 92 lions died in Gujarat in last two years.

PTI | Mar 28, 2013, 05:51AM IST
Ahmedabad: Ninety-two Asiatic lions have died, including 83 of natural death, in the past two years in Gujarat's Saurashtra region while there has been no case of poaching.
In a written reply to a question asked by Congress MLA from Lathi, Bavku Unghad, Minister of State for Forest and Environment Govind Patel told the state assembly recently that nine lions died of accidents, including by falling in open wells.
As per the government data, 46 lions each died in 2011 and 2012. Out of the total 92 lions dying in the past two years, 43 were cubs, 29 female and 20 male felines.
"There was no incident of poaching in any part of the state," Patel said. On the same issue, Amreli Congress MLA Paresh Dhanani raised concerns of scarcity of drinking water in Saurashtra region and pointed out that because of it, lions were found moving away from the sanctuary area in and around Sasan Gir.
He wanted to know from the government if it has any plans to stop 'outward migration' of lions from this area. "At present there is no such situation which forces the lions to leave forest areas," replied Patel.
In another written reply to a question asked by Talala Congress MLA Jasu Barad, the minister said that as per the Census conducted in 2010, there were 411 lions in the state.
During the question hour on Friday last, Patel said "Though Asiatic lions are only found in Gujarat and the state has been considered a home for it, the central government has never included lions in any of the promotional materials for tourism in India".
"While the Gujarat government has been making its own efforts to promote tourism in the state, including a film called 'Khushbu Gujarat Ki' showing Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan promoting the state, Congress leaders here are criticising it as a waste of money," he said.

92 Asiastic lions die in last two years in India.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 10:43

of 92 Asiatic lions have died in the Saurashtra region in Western Indian state of Gujarat in the last two years, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

Minister of State for Forest and Environment Govind Patel said 83 of the lions died of natural death and nine from accidents in Gujarat, one of the animals' largest habitats in the country.

"There was no incident of poaching in any part of the state," Patel told the state assembly recently.

Patel denied reports that many wild animals including lions were leaving the sanctuary area in and around Sasan Gir due to water scarcity.

"There is no outward migration or lack of water that forces lions to leave forest areas," he said. The 2010 census reveals some 411 lions are found in the state's forests. -Bernama

Wind-powered water holes for Gir lions.

(At a watering spot with flowing…)
Himanshu Kaushik, TNN Mar 18, 2013, 12.13AM IST

AHMEDABAD: Not just humans, even animals prefer flowing water. The drought-like situation in the Gir area has shown that water holes filled by wind or solar powered pumps attract more animals than those artificially filled by tankers.
Officials said stagnant water is less preferred. At a watering spot with flowing water, not just Asiatic lions, even chital, sambar and other wild animals are seen more frequently.
Officials said running water is cleaner and doesn't have dried leaves and other contaminants. It was also noticed that cemented ponds are less preferred. Places where water overflowing from such ponds accumulated nearby also proved better sites.
Officials said wind and solar powered pumps, do not draw large volumes but draw water slowly. This keeps it fresh and flowing. Sandeep Kumar, deputy conservator of forests, said the use of wind and solar energy is preferred to tankers. Also according to Kumar, resulting moisture in the area nearby was also better suited for animals to rest on hot afternoons.
The forest department has now begun a survey for locations suitable for windmills or solar water pumps in the Greater Gir area - Amreli, Porbandar, coastal areas and even Bhavnagar. Officials said that an experiment carried out in Liliya failed because of the high salinity of the groundwater there.
Conservator of forests R Meena said, "Instead of allocating funds solely for sanctuary areas, we are now focusing on social forestry areas outside the protected forest. We have now allocated more funds for areas in Junagadh and Amreli, which are quite far from the sanctuary."
However, officials who refused to be named, said that the there was indeed a great shortage funds and whatever little money was received from the Lion Conservation Society was being used up in constructing such waterholes.

Gujarat loses lion’s share of grants.

Himanshu Kaushik, TNN Mar 20, 2013, 05.17AM IST

AHMEDABAD: The lion's share of conversation funds in the country are meant only for the tiger. For the Asiatic lion, found only in Gujarat, the central government seems to have only peanuts. The Planning Commission has asked the Gujarat government to slash its project to preserve the lions outside the Gir sanctuary by Rs 100 crore.
Of the 411 lions found in the wild, 120-odd are living outside the Gir sanctuary and need to be monitored. Last year, the commission had agreed 'in principle' to allocate Rs 262.36 crore over five years for the project 'Consolidating Long Term Conservation of Asiatic Lion in Greater Gir'.
On March 26, 2012, Union minister of state for forest and environment Jayanthi Natarajan had replied to an unstarred question in Parliament raised by Gwalior MP Yashodhara Raje Scindia that the fund was approved.
But, when it came to releasing the money, the commission officials told state forest officials to scale down the project. According to them, Rs 262.62 crore was too big an amount to be spent on just one state.
For the record, the Centre has spent close to Rs 700 crore on tiger conservation in the past decade, a point that Gujarat officials raised when a Planning Commission team visited the state recently. "We were told that the tiger deserved more funds because several states were involved and that lions were limited only to Gujarat," said a state forest department official.
The state forest department has been told to scale down the spending to Rs 150 crore. Instead of an elaborate conservation plan for the lions, Gujarat is now only asking funds for gadgets that help track the animals and communication devices for the foresters. S K Goyal, principal chief conservator of forest, said "We have sent a revised proposal."
Gujarat should not be penalised for being the only state protecting the Asiatic lions. It is the fault of other states that lions today have been driven from the rest of India into a corner in Saurashtra. Gujarat has worked hard to bring this unique species back from the brink of extinction to a stage where they are multiplying and conquering new territories. The fact that their habitat is still small can't be a reason to deprive Gujarat of funds. Gujarat should in fact be given more incentives so that the symbol of the government of India is well taken care of.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The lost descendants.

Sat Mar 16 2013, 23:09 hrs
It usually takes several months and sometimes even a year, for photographer Ketaki Sheth to decide a subject for her personal projects. There have been times when she has abandoned an idea after the initial excitement fizzled out. "Everything looks exciting in the beginning but doesn't always work. When I looked back after a year of photographing women in the Indian Army, I found my photos uninteresting, and dropped the idea," she says. Sheth's next subject, however, stood the test of time making her invest seven years in it. It was the Sidi, a little-known Indian community of African descent, and their untold visual stories that kept her interested and intrigued over the years, culminating into a book titled A Certain Grace: The Sidi, Indians of African Descent. The book will be launched at the Jnanapravaha, Mumbai, as a part of the FOCUS Photography Festival, Mumbai, on March 22.
"There are many academic works on the Sidi online, but I felt the need to visually document a community that Indians hardly know of," says Sheth who chanced upon a Sidi village deep inside the Gir forest in Gujarat while holidaying with her family in 2005. What initially held her interest was the peculiar location of the village of Sirwan, that surrounded the forest. "I asked for it and found out that it's a Sidi settlement. The Nawab of Junagadh had given it to the Sidi, who were used to help with hunting," she says.
Having arrived here 400 years ago, the Sidi today are almost disconnected from their roots except in their dance, Goma. "They are completely Indian like you or me. They speak the local language (Gujarati with a smattering of Swahili, Hindi, Kannada), eat the local cuisine and have embraced local cultures," she says.
Being an outsider, Sheth's initiation into the isolated community didn't come easy. Her entry point into the community circles became Hirbaiben Lobi, a middle-aged Sidi woman, who she describes as "large, somewhat controlling woman with a huge heart". "I didn't want to barge into them," says the 56-year-old Mumbai-based photographer.
Sheth's initial plan was to photograph the Sidi as a series of portraits. "The faces are extraordinary. There is so much laughter and strength," she adds. But she changed her mind soon as another world of Sidis — their practice of a peaceful religion and the fervor of their music, song and dance — opened up. Their song and dance is a unique synthesis of Sufi and African traditions, and probably the only connect to their roots. "I realised an important part of them was their way of worship without fanaticism and their music," she says. The book is hence a combination of portraiture and streetscapes of the Sidi. The 108-page book, priced at Rs 1500 comprises 75 full-size and 13 small photographs in black-and-white.
Even her earlier books, Twinspotting: Photographs of Patel Twins in Britain in 1999 and India and Bombay Mix: Street Photographs in 2007 have stayed away from colour. She attributes this to the two semesters she spent at New York University in the late '80s, where she role-modelled her style on the black-and-white pictures of great photographers such as Robert Frank and Henry Cartier-Bresson.
Sheth's book maps the Sidis across the country, from the starting point at Jambur that led to Mumbai, Karnataka and Hyderabad. There are some amusing little stories of the Sidi, who've been absorbed in the urban lives of Mumbai. The book features Heena, the daughter of a Bollywood stuntman who lives in Kurla, to the more urbanised couple of Juliana, a casting director of ads and films and Juje, a has-been athlete, who lives in Borivali.
The book's introduction is written by Mahmood Mamdani, one of the leading intellectuals of Africa today and husband of filmmaker Mira Nair.
The book took two years to find a publisher, till it got the financial support of an African-Indian collaborative bank, and was finally published by Photoink in Delhi.

188 cases of leopard, lion attacks.

TNN Mar 16, 2013, 12.15AM IST
AHMEDABAD: At least 31 persons died in Amreli and Junagadh districts in 188 attacks by leopards and lions in the last two years. The government, in reply to a question by Talala MLA Jasu Barad said that in 2011, 75 incidents of attack were reported from Junagadh and Amreli, but this increased to 113 in 2012.
The government also accepted that 31 persons were killed in the various incidents which took place mainly in the periphery of the Gir sanctuary which is home to Asiatic lions and even leopards. Of the 188 incidents, about 120 were reported from Junagadh while the rest were from Amreli district.
The government said that it has formed special rescue teams in Gir area for the rescue of animals who are involved in frequent attacks. The minister said that meetings of forest officials with sarpanchs were held to create awareness so that the villagers can protect themselves from such attacks. He said van mitras have been appointed in the villages. tnn
A senior officer from Junagadh said that of the 188 attacks, over 85 per cent were by leopards. The official said the majority of attacks were in Una and in the coastal talukas of the two districts. He said that during the census conducted last year, it came to light that leopards and their cubs have started inhabiting the fields. Sugarcane fields are important hideouts for leopards as the plants are tall. These fields are also a breeding ground for the wild cats that are shy by nature.
The officer said the fields in Una, Talala and Kodinar in Saurashtra along with those in south Gujarat and Vadodara have a good population of leopards. He said these animals keep moving between the forest area and the fields.
Forest land for two firms
The state government in a written reply said that the state has diverted forest land to two firms for non-forest activities. The government in reply to Rajula MLA Hirabhai Solanki informed the House that in 2011, forest land was given to Vodafone Essar Company and Ultratec cement. The land was given for non-forest activities. The government said that according to rules the land was not sold, but the companies were told to create similar area of green space.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Meet Leelabai, a 59-year-old woman forest guard.


Tête-à-tête with Leelabai, a 59-year-old forest guard in Kanha

“I was walking back to the field camp, when a tiger decided to take the same path as me. It looked me straight in the eye and kept moving in my direction. (...) The tiger came close... and then just trotted off into the bushes,” Leelabai reminisced. “The tiger must have seen the uniform and understood that it’s the malik (owner) out for a walk.”
Leelabai is not a celebrated ‘wildlifer’ or photographer, nor has she published any research papers or been a part of any conglomeration of conservationists. She has spent the last nineteen years of her life living in the forest, armed with nothing but a stick and sheer raw pluck and courage, guarding the forest as part of the forest department. She and WTI's Jose Louies probably would have never crossed paths had the organisation not conducted Crime Prevention Training for the frontline forest staff, an initiative supported by IFAW, at Kanha National Park.
Fondly called amma (mother) by her colleagues, including many officers, Leelabai will be turning 60 this December and it’ll be time for her to retire from the forest department.  Here are some excerpts from Jose's conversation with her-
What made you join the department?  ... I got this job as a forest guard in 1985, after my husband was killed by some poachers. I was left all alone with four children- two boys and two girls. The department offered me the job as a means to make ends meet and I decided to take it up.
What’s your daily routine like? ... We go patrolling, at least around 10 km every day inside the forest. There isn’t an animal that we don’t come across... whether it is a tiger or a gaur, we see them all!

What do you think about the tiger? ... Oh... what do I think? (Laughs) You tell me what I should be thinking about when a majestic animal like the tiger crosses my path! Simplyput, it’s the pride of our forests. After all, you’re sitting in the land of the tiger and people come from all across the world to see a tiger here! So yes, I feel very proud about our tigers.
(...) Have you ever caught a poacher yourself? ... What do you think, kid? That I’ve been in this position for so long but haven’t done anything? As a forest guard, I’ve been part of quite a few seizures and seen them detaining a lot of suspects. Once, in fact, during my patrolling with two casual workers we came across a father-son duo, who were jungle fowl hunters who were setting traps in the forest. As soon as they saw us they tried to run away but we caught them easily. I gave two tight slaps to the kid and asked him why he’s spoiling his life by getting into this murky business and leading a life of crime. We went back, collected all the traps and handed them to the senior officials later. So many incidents like these have happened; it’s hard for me to recall all of them. It’s all a normal part of our life here.
To read the rest of this exchange and see what else this amazing lady had to say, go here.
Leelabai is symbolic of those hundreds of unknown and unheard of ‘glorified’ protectors of our forests and the wildlife in them. It’s not just a job for them but literally living in the middle of the jungles, they risk their lives every day for the cause. It’s not an easy life, patrolling for kilometres on end, living in minimalist field camps to survive, braving the harsh varying Indian weather all year round, battling against all odds to act as the first line of defence for our wildlife.
Here’s hoping that her story and her contributions are now known to the world and helps inspire more people to join forces for to help save wildlife.
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