Monday, September 30, 2013

Talala: Protest against re-merger with Junagadh intensifies.

Ahmedabad100 women from Sasan Gir, Bhalchhel and Haripur joined the hunger strike in Sasan Gir on Sunday. 

The indefinite relay hunger strike by residents of Sasan Gir and two other villages in Talala taluka of the newly-created Gir Somnath district, opposing their re-merger with Junagadh district, intensified on the fourth day on Sunday with women joining the protest. More than 100 women from Sasan Gir, Bhalchhel and Haripur villages joined the hunger strike outside Sinh Sadan, the local headquarters of Forest department in Sasan Gir.
Situated on the border of Gir forests, Sasan Gir is famous for lion safaris. Gir is the only natural habitat of the endangered Asiatic lions.
Villagers have been camping near the Sinh Sadan since Thursday after the state government issued a notification on September 9 merging these three villages with Mendarda taluka of Junagadh. In the initial notification for Gir Somnath early this year, the entire Talala taluka, including Sasan Gir, Bhalchhel and Haripur, was made part of the new district.
"The state government is singling out these three villages after representations from BJP's Junagadh MLA Mahendra Mashru and other local leaders. They are saying that Girnar and lions cannot be separated. However, the Forest department data shows that even Girnar has lions," said Devayat Vadher, a Congress member of Talal panchayat.
The villagers claim that they have nothing to do with any political party and are opposed to the government's decision due to distance between their villages and the new taluka headquarters, Mendarda town. "For us, Talala is 15 km away whereas Mendarda is 32 km. If the state government wants to make it convenient for people by making new districts, how fair is this?" asked Lakshman Dhokadia, the sarpanch of Sasan Gir.
Gypsy association, guides association and members of the hotel association of Sasan Gir have extended support to the protesters. "If the state government does not reconsider its decision by October 15, we will launch a 'road blocking' agitation and not allow tourists to enter Sasan Gir," the sarpanch threatened.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The lion’s second coming.

  • Resting in Gir: Lions in a pride adapt to newer pastures with ease. Photo: N. Shiva Kumar
    The Hindu Resting in Gir: Lions in a pride adapt to newer pastures with ease. Photo: N. Shiva Kumar
  • THE FOOD CHAIN: Chital, one of the favourite prey animals. Photo: N. Shiva Kumar
    The Hindu THE FOOD CHAIN: Chital, one of the favourite prey animals. Photo: N. Shiva Kumar
  • A young male lion. Photo: N. Shiva Kumar
    The Hindu A young male lion. Photo: N. Shiva Kumar

    Updated: September 29, 2013 11:46 IST
    N. Shiva Kumar
An expert committee has been set up to expedite the smooth translocation of some Asiatic Lions from the Gir forest in Gujarat to the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh
The large carnivores of India seem to be caught in controversies all the time. Not a single day passes without news in the print or electronic media about leopards being bludgeoned to death, tigers being poached for body parts or snow leopards being hunted for their precious pelt. Two other issues that hit the headlines recently were the shifting of lions (Panthera Leo Persica) from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh and of cheetahs into the wild.
“It’s like a life insurance policy; we do not take an insurance policy expecting to die but we do so to protect against unexpected events. Similarly, a second home will provide protection against extinction for the free-ranging Asiatic lions, which is an integral part of India’s unique and diverse natural heritage,” says Dr. Ravi Chellam, a senior wildlife ecologist who has studied the Asiatic lion from close range for many years in the Gir forest — the last remaining home of the big cat.
It has been nearly six months since the Supreme Court passed a verdict on April 15 to guarantee a safe and sound second home for the beleaguered Asiatic lion; however, not much appears to have happened on the ground. The idea is to translocate a selected pride of lions to ensure the long-time survival of the endangered species. To expedite this long-drawn project, that that has been lingering for decades and have seen huge expenditure, to create a second habitation in Madhya Pradesh, the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment (MoEF) has constituted a 12-member committee.
Chaired by MoEF’s Additional Director General (ADG), Wildlife, the committee will decide the final course of action to shift lions from Gir Forest National Park to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary spread over 1,269 sq km. This team consists of wildlife experts who will not only look into the systematic arrangements for transporting the lions, but will also study threat perceptions to these big cats in their new home. The committee members include Chief Wildlife Wardens (CWW) of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, Member Secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Wildlife Institute of India (WII), and other flora and fauna experts like Dr. A.J.T. Johnsingh, Y.B. Jhala, Dr. Ravi Chellam, P.R. Sinha and N.K. Ranjeet Singh. This committee can also co-opt more specialists for the proceedings so that any loopholes in the plans can be plugged in the nascent stage.
One of the major doubts raised by many independent wildlife experts and activists is the availability of prey base, i.e. antelopes and deer in the new location. It has been estimated that the energy or prey requirements of a carnivore can be determined using body weight; consequently a female lion kills about 40 to 45 animals per year, consuming 2,000 kg of meat which is equivalent to 3,000 kg of live prey for mere maintenance. When raising two to three cubs, the mother lion would need 60 to 75 prey animals per year. Assuming that 50 wild animals can support one lion for one year, on average, then five lions (three females and two males) will require a total of 250 wild animals per year.
In this context, the favourite food of lions includes chital (spotted deer), sambhar, nilgai (blue bull), chinkara, wild boar and even langur that are available in ample numbers in the new location, according to field studies conducted over the years. One wildlife expert has recommended that the three female and two male lions should be initially introduced into Kuno only after ensuring that the prey base is greater than required.
While the subject of Asiatic lions’ translocation is hanging fire, a seven-day photo exhibition titled ‘Landscape of the Lions’ is being organised in the Capital’s India International Centre by ace lensman Ashok Dilwali.
The exhibition will coincide with the Wildlife Week celebrations in the first week of October and the show will culminate in a pictorial-talk titled ‘Present and the Past Homeland’ by Sharad Khanna and Faiyaz A. Khudsar, both wildlife enthusiasts, followed by a public debate on October 5.

Gir a sanctuary for runaway couples too!

TNN Sep 16, 2013, 11.24AM IST
RAJKOT: So, you thought Gir is the only safe haven for Asiatic lions alone? Ask cupids and you will find out that the last abode of Asiatic lions is a safe sanctuary for runaway couples too!
A few weeks ago, Kajal (20) from Visnagar and Rohan (22) from Mehsana (names changed) were roaming around Girnar Mountain in Girnar Wildlife sanctuary trying to find a safe haven for themselves after running away from their homes. Food had not been a problem as they could eat at one of the Annakshetras (free food centres) run by charitable trusts but they wanted a place where they could stay for a while. But the two were soon nabbed by a police patrol that found that they had run away to get married against the wishes of their families.
Girnar, the abode of Asiatic lion, is also becoming the final destination of youngsters who elope. City Patrol Team (CPT) of Junagadh police has been regularly coming across such cases in Girnar. "So far, we have registered four cases against such couples in the last one year under provisions of Gujarat Police Act for indecent behaviour in public. We also caught 48 youngsters in the jungle in compromising positions," said Razak Bhatti of CPT.
Sources said that number of such cases is higher as police and forest officials do not register cases against the eloping youngsters but try to convince them to return home.
"In most of the cases, which we catch them as suspects, ask the girls about their age, parents and check their mobile numbers. We contact their parents and inform them about their daughter's whereabouts. If we register cases, it might prove to be an embarrassment for the parents and lead to bad results,'' said an official.
Sources said that the youngsters believe that once they land in Girnar, no one would be able to trace them. But, the vigilant cops and forest officials have been tracking down these couples regularly.

Lider, the lion king of Jerusalem, dies at 16.

City’s only maned big cat was a star attraction at Biblical Zoo; only a few hundred Asiatic lions remain worldwide
September 23, 2013, 8:38 pm
Lider the lion, at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo (photo credit: Jerusalem Biblical Zoo/Yarah Tamari)
Lider the lion, at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo (photo credit: Jerusalem Biblical Zoo/Yarah Tamari)

Jerusalem’s only male lion, who for more than a decade was a popular draw at the city’s Biblical Zoo, died after a sharp decline in his already failing health.

Lider, 16, an Asiatic lion, was put to sleep last Thursday after veterinarians and keepers decided that his difficulties in walking and standing, brought on by chronic back pain, were insufferable. A series of X-rays and CT scans performed at the Beit Dagan animal hospital over the past two weeks showed that his condition was incurable and deteriorating.
The Jerusalem Zoo said in a statement that it has begun looking for a pair of young lions to bring in as replacements; the lion exhibit now has just one lioness left.
However, Zoo spokesperson Sigalit Dvir told the Times of Israel that keepers must also take into consideration the zoo’s last remaining lioness Ileniya. Introducing large cats to each other in zoo exhibits is a delicate business that can take several weeks to complete.
Chief Carnivore Keeper at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo Dennis Smith took care of Lider for the last 14 years and described how well the lion got on with Ileniya. The lioness now seems to be missing her mate, often appearing to search for him, calling for him, sniffing around in the closure, said Smith. “It is very sad,” he said.
Chief Carnivore Keeper at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo Dennis Smith with Lider the lion. (photo credit: Jerusalem Biblical Zoo/Tal Naveh)
Chief Carnivore Keeper at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo Dennis Smith with Lider the lion. (photo credit: Jerusalem Biblical Zoo/Tal Naveh)
Visitors were often treated to the sight of Lider rearing up against the windows of his enclosure but Smith admitted he could never really trust the wild animal.
“Whenever he saw me he would always jump up and never take his eyes off me,” he recalled.
The lion first arrived at the zoo 14 years ago from Poland as a young cub and soon became something of a celebrity as the only male lion in Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem municipal emblem
The Jerusalem municipal emblem
Jerusalem’s official city emblem features a lion, echoing the lion symbol of the biblical tribe of Judah and later the Kingdom of Judah, which established its capital in Jerusalem under King David.
Asiatic lions are an endangered species, with only around 300 left in the Gir Forest Sanctuary in India and another 330 in captivity. Zoos around the world are engaged in a breeding program to try and save the faltering species from extinction.
However, with the relatively small number of Asian lions available — by comparison there are over 1,600 African lions in captivity — inbreeding is common and as a result many of the animals have genetic disorders affecting their health. Lider himself was born sterile as a result and an illness that afflicted his nervous system was likely brought on by genetic problems.

Ceremony to baptize 5 Sasan Simbas.

AHMEDABAD: In their last abode Saurashtra, Asiatic lions have lent their name to humans with many communities using the suffix 'sinh'. For the first time, however, villagers in Sasan will hold a grand ceremony - naamkaran vidhi - to name five cubs born to lioness Laxmi on May 17 this year.
Following a traditional Gujarati ritual observed by villagers, the names of the five cubs — all of whom have survived the first four months and weigh around 11 kg — will be decided by picking up chits.
Foresters and villagers alike are busy preparing for the naming ceremony to be held on October 2. The state forest department has decided to kick start the Wild Life Week with this ceremony. This will be followed up by a series of events including rallies and seminars on the issue of conservation. It is rare for a lioness to give birth to five cubs and their survival is equally significant . "We want to spread the word about our conservation efforts using this event," says C N Pandey, Gujarat's chief wildlife warden. Laxmi's mother Shyama too gave birth to five cubs on May 3, 2010, at Sakkarbaug Zoo in Junagadh but could raise only three.
Like traditional Gujarati families, this ceremony will be officiated by 'foibas' or 'buas' - elderly women from Sasan village. These women will pick up a chit with name written for each cub.
Gir has seen a substantial increase growth in the number of tourists triggered by an aggressive campaign led by superstar Amitabh Bachchan. The number of tourists was 1.29 lakh in 2010 has increased to 4.60 lakh in 2012-13 . The forest department has also increased the number of permit per day in Sasan from 90 to 115 per day.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Man-animal conflict drives up number of rescue operations.

Himanshu Kaushik, TNN Sep 10, 2013, 06.32AM IST
AHMEDABAD: In a clear indication of the increasing pressure of wild animals in the densely populated areas surrounding their habitats, the number of rescue operations carried out show an exponential progression in Gujarat. During 2000-2001, only 47 rescue operations were conducted. The same figure for 2012-13, was 627.
Not surprisingly, most of these of rescue operations were carried out in villages of Kodinar, Veraval, Dhari, Khambha, Talala, Sutrapada and Una. These are the areas surrounding the Gir National Park and several prides of big cats have even made these villages their home.
According to the state forest department, of the 627 animals rescued in the year 2012-13, over 400 were lions and leopards. The exact number of leopards rescued in the year was 75.
The population of both lion and leopard has been increasing. In 2000, there were 327 lions in Gujarat. The 2010 census put the number at 411. The next big cat census is due in 2015.
Similarly, the number of leopards, which stood at 311 in 2001, has also crossed the 500 mark. Most of the rescue operations for leopards took place in sugarcane fields and mango orchards as these places were apparently the favourite haunts of leopards.
Senior government officials said that Gir sanctuary had a carrying capacity of only 280 lions and around 300 leopards, but with this population increase, the total area where lion were now found stood at 10,000 sq km.
The awareness among the villagers had lead to an increase in rescue operations, deputy conservator of forest (DCF) Sandeep Kumar said. "This year, 47 pythons were rescued. It's an indication that people were calling rescue teams for saving even small animals," he added.
On Monday, the officials got two calls for lion rescue. The foresters were informed that one lion had developed maggots, while the other one was limping.
Another reason for the increased number of such operations was availability of better infrastructure facilities. In 2000-01, there was only one team while today there were 16 such teams based at Mahuva, Jamwada, Jasadhar and Sutrapada, among other places.

Gujarat women script unique chapter in conservation (Environment Feature).

Ahmedabad, Aug 30 (IANS) Women foresters in Gujarat are scripting a unique chapter in conservation, keeping poachers and encroachers at bay with their soft skills and emotional bond with villagers.
Deployed in the Gir Forest, the only abode of the Asiatic Lion, these dedicated women keep a hawk’s eye on every acre of the sanctuary, parcelled into beats for administrative convenience.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who took the initiative to appoint them as Van Raksha Sahayaks (forest protecters) in 2007, recalled their exemplary role in a conservation while addressing women entrepreneurs in New Delhi.
Buoyed by an enthusiastic response to the first batch of women forest guards, mainly tribals from Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts, the Gujarat government plans to recruit 100 more this year.
Besides protecting the Asiatic lion and leopards, these guards prevent illegal teak felling and forest fires, often caused by tribal rituals. They also promote conservation and regulate eco-tourism.
“Of 365 staff members posted at Gir forest, only 32 are women. But they are playing a significant role in its protection and management, far beyond their numbers,” Sandeep Kumar told IANS. Kumar, himself an avid wildlife enthusiast and photographer, is the Deputy Conservator of Forests Wildlife Division, Sasan-Gir, which lies 327 km southwest of Ahmedabad.
Kumar’s statement is backed by statistics.
The 2010 lion census states that Asiatic lions in Gir Forest have grown by 13 percent over five years, taking the total to 411.
“Van sahayaks” rescued more than 250 leopards, as part of a total of 600 rescue operations undertaken in the Gir, one of the highest recorded anywhere in the country.
They have organised medical camps in villages as well as nature education trails and camps for girls aged between 8 and 11 years.
Soft skills help “van sahayaks” mingle with village women and children, gaining their trust, support and goodwill for conservation, said Kumar.
Provided cameras by Modi, some of them have even become expert wildlife photographers.
For instance, Kiran Pethia has clicked the behaviour of cubs. Likewise, Rasila Vadher relies on the lens for documentation and presentations.
Prior to 2007, a male bastion like the Gujarat Forest Department had only a couple of women from the Indian Forest Service on its rolls, recalls Kumar.
The Gir forest comprises a fully protected core of 258 sq km and a sanctuary spread over 1,153 sq km of notified and coastal forests.
Armed with double bore shotguns and wireless sets, women assigned to the mobile squad comb the protected area, covering more than 25 km daily.
Similarly, the rescue squad reaches out to animals in distress, ensuring treatment and relief. The wireless squad tracks the progress of both the groups and keeps in touch with them.
Encountering snakes or crocodiles and hungry lionesses, besides armed poachers and encroachers, are some of the daily hazards.
For instance, Manisha Vaghela had a brush with a gang of motorcycle-borne poachers in 2011 in the Devaliya area of Gir. Tipped off about their presence by her range forest officer, she acted promptly and fearlessly.
Vaghela collected four of her forest guards and four more from Devaliya Range. They sealed the area and nabbed the poachers trying to kill an antelope.
Gir forest has four rescue centres to resolve human-wildlife conflict. All rescue teams comprise a vet, forest staff (including women) and, most important, trackers.
Kumar attributed the success of the Gujarat model of conservation to inter-departmental coordination, dedication of staff and involvement of local communities. Inspired by the Gujarat model, Maharashtra sent two batches of senior foresters to the Gir sanctuary to learn how human-wildlife conflict could be minimised.
(Shudip Talukdar can be contacted at
—Indo-Asian News Service
IANS 2013-08-30 13:02:21

Modi, Chouhan continue sparring over translocation of lions.

Asiatic lions are listed as endangered by the IUCN due to their small population.
The frayed tempers between the Gujarat and the Madhya Pradesh government along with the judicial activism on the issue of the translocation of the Asiatic lion from its last abode in the Gir forests to the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in MP may not cool down anytime soon.
The hard-hitting Supreme Court verdict on April 15 forced the Gujarat government to agree to the translocation in what had become a fight for state pride and resulted in much jarring between the two BJP-ruled states.

In retaliation, Gujarat government filed a review petition in May. Although the verdict on the petition was still pending a 12 member committee was formed by the ministry of forest and environment for the translocation of lions. The panel, which met in Delhi on July 29 for a maiden meeting, comprised pro-shifting experts Ravi Chellam and Y V Jhala who are the brains behind the translocation plan to decide on the number of lions to be shifted.
Gujarat government had put forth its arguments against the move but environmentalists slammed it by saying that the lions were being caught in a political tussle between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

Significantly, the battle over the translocation had taken an ugly turn. Modi had refused to entertain the request of his MP counterpart Chouhan government to agree to the translocation. Many government officials and local activists in Gujarat questioned that is conserving the lion really MP's aim or does it basically want to enhance its tourism?
Dineshgiri Goswami, green activist from Kodinar based Prakruti Nature Club, says "I do not think anybody is thinking about the lion but the battle is becoming more political. Forest officers appearing in court do not care for the lions." Goswami threatened self-immolation if lions are shifted.

As a much needed boost to the Gujarat government, a Mumbai based NGO, Empower Foundation, presented a study on lion translocation. They stated that lions should not be translocated and be allowed to migrate naturally. The study also found that the Gujarat government has not powerfully positioned the fact that the lion habitat in Gujarat goes much beyond Gir.
Over a period of time lions have migrated naturally hundreds of kilometers away to places like Amreli, Savarkundla, Liliya Porbandar, Paniya, Mitiyala, Barda, Una, Chhara, Sutrapada, Babariya, Kodinar, Visavadar, Hipavadli, Jamvada, Jasadhar, Girnar, Bhavnagar and Palitana.
"The 1,412 sq km abode of Asiatic lions has now spread across 10,500 sq km, thus mitigating concentration risk in one area," explained Jalpesh Mehta, founder chairman, Empower Foundation. Thus, the spread of an epidemic which was the primary argument of wildlife activists and biologists seeking translocation does not hold true, according to him.

One would not, however, undermine Gujarat's valid concerns about the security of the lions in Madhya Pradesh. Asiatic lions are listed as endangered by the IUCN due to their small population. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, C.N.Pandey says, "Success of lion conservation in Gujarat may largely be attributed to the tolerant, friendly and supportive local people. This is missing at Kuno Palpur."

Another major concern is that Madhya Pradesh is major poaching arena with a strong gun culture. According to several cases reported in the past the 'tiger state' lost its moniker when 453 tigers out of 710 (63% loss) were killed in last decade alone. The state as per the 2011 census has only 257 tigers left.
The loss of tiger in Madhya Pradesh was 50 per cent of the total loss of the tigers across the world. Palpur Kuno had 25 tigers earlier but reduced to a shameful figure of two in the present time. Sheopur district also has 4800 fire arm licenses for a population of six lakh. As these are licensed guns, one cannot assess the illegal fire arms present in the area.

Risks cannot be ruled out, but these risks must be taken considering the larger benefits for the species, feels Dr Rahul Kaul, Chief Ecologist, Wildlife Trust of India. He observes: "Long-term viability of lions or any other wildlife will benefit greatly if there are multiple populations. Restricting the animals to a single population, however big, can make them extremely vulnerable to stochastic extinctions."   

International Fund for Animal Welfare - Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI) has undertaken relocation of animals in the northeast India. "Working with the Assam Forest Department and Bodoland Territorial Council authorities, we have aided in reintroduction of rhinos in Manas after its entire population was wiped out during the civil unrest of 80s and 90s. With advancement of science and understanding, proper planning and effective implementation, the degree of success has increased and can be increased further. Anyway, in cases like these, the possibility of success must matter more than the fear of failure," says Kaul.

Clearly in this battle MP has an upper hand but with the endangered animals at stake the issues may have become more political than ecological. And while one smile and the other sulks a species survival is at risk.
  Read more at:

Six lions wander into Sasan railway station, kill calf.

Himanshu Kaushik, TNN Sep 5, 2013, 03.39AM IST
AHMEDABAD: The railway employees at Sasan station were forced to stay indoors when six Asiatic lions wandered in from the wild. After waiting for 15 minutes on the platform, the big cats moved out of the station and killed a calf.
It is rare for lions to come to the tracks and then gone on to the railway station. In this case, however, what was particularly interesting was that the six lions were not from one pride. Three were from the Kamleshwar dam site while the rest were from Raidi beat.
As news about the lions spread, people from Sasan village gathered near the site to watch the big cats feasting. For Sasan villagers, it is not new to see a lion but six lions eating a calf was something many had never seen. Forest officials were afraid of a law and order crisis and a possible attack by the lions. They had a hard time dispersing the crowd.
Kasuladev Ramesh, deputy conservator of forest, Gir West Division, said that after the villagers were dispersed, they closely examined the maggot wounds found on the body of three lions. During monsoon, maggot wounds are common problem among lions. The forest staff noticed the injury but as it was night, they were not able to carry out a rescue operation.
Help of veterinary doctors was sought in the morning. When they reached the spot along with rescue teams, the doctors treated two female and one male lion.

Asiatic lioness killed by farmer in Gujarat.

VADODARA: An Asiatic lioness was allegedly electrocuted by a farmer in his sugarcane field in Mathasuriya village along Gir forest in Gujarat, department officials said on Wednesday.

"Postmortem of the lioness confirmed that she died of electrocution," said District Conservator of Forest (Junagadh) Aradhana Sahu, adding no external injuries were found on the big cat whose carcass was found on Tuesday.

Officials suspect that the farmer Bhimbhai Bhagavan Zankant was behind the incident and they are conducting inquiry against him under the Wild Life Act. "He will be detained after inquiry", they said.

The Asiatic lion, also known as the Indian lion, is a lion sub-species that exists as a single isolated population in Gujarat. It is listed as Endangered by IUCN based on the small population size.

According to Deputy Conservator of Forests (West Division), Gir Forest, K Ramesh, this is second such incident from Giri Somnath district in last one month. A lion was also killed in a similar fashion by a farmer at Moti Monpuri village in Junagadh district.

Illegal hotels in Gir sanctuary face action.

Illegal hotels in Gir sanctuary face action
AHMEDABAD: Hoteliers eyeing business opportunities around Gir sanctuary may not have many options left. The state forest department has banned such activities within the two-km radius of the sanctuary and is now planning to crack down on the illegal hotels operating within the sanctuary.

The increase in the number of tourists in the sanctuary has led to an increase in commercial activities. The forest officials said that while there only 25-odd hotel properties before five years, they have increased to 34 in 2013.

The officials said with the spurt in the hotel business around the sanctuary, there has been an increase in illegal activities as well. Several farm houses which were registered for individual use have converted themselves into hotels and guest houses.

"The department during the surveys found that there were 15 such farm houses which had been converted to guest houses. The officials have informed the district administration which has issued notices to these farm houses," said a senior official.

The official said the department had recently issued a notification restricting the setting up of any new hotel business in the two-km periphery of the sanctuary. The decision is aimed at giving Asiatic lions' free access to the Sasan Gir sanctuary and to protect their natural corridor.

The sanctuary witnessed a rise of 21 per cent in visitors during October 2012 - June 2013 season. The October-June season witnessed 21 per cent increase in number of visitors, 28 per cent rise in arrival of foreign tourists, and 19 per cent rise in revenue.

The officials said that a total of 4,16,000 tourists arrived in this season. The revenue of sanctuary was Rs 5.1 crore in this season. According to 2010 census, there are 411 lions in Gir jungle.

The officials said that ever since the advertisement featuring Amitabh Bachchan was aired, there has been an increase in the number of tourists in the sanctuary.

"This has also led to an increase in the number of hotel rooms in the region," said an official.

Pride of the jungle.

Come October, and season begins in Gir, the home of the fabulous Asiatic lion. Zerin Anklesaria was there recently and, thankfully, lived to tell the tale.

ZERIN ANKLESARIAUpdated: September 6, 2013 19:51 IST
On a quiet night, so they say, the roar of an adult male lion can be heard five miles away. No such roaring welcome greeted us as we drove into Sasan Gir with the moon riding high, but we were certainly in lion country, with road signs pointing the way to Mane Land Jungle Lodge, Lion’s Paw Resort, Pride of Gir, Elsa’s Lair, and so on.
For me, this was a sentimental journey, for my father had served under the Nawab of Junagadh before Independence and as children we had visited Gir, staying in palatial grandeur at The Royal Hunting Lodge. The Nawab, a great animal lover, rarely hunted and it was chiefly maintained for Indian rajas and British VIPs for whom a lion was a prized trophy.
A party of 20 of us stayed there for four memorable days in sybaritic luxury. This was soon after the then Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, had left. The cellars were still stocked with the choicest wines, and the larders with cheeses, jams and canned fruit from Australia. The chefs cooked up mind-boggling meats, game and desserts.
Six of us little girls were allotted the master bedroom where the centrepiece was an enormous double bed with an 8-inch box-spring mattress imported especially for the Viceregal couple. Far from prying adult eyes, we spent our evenings using it as a trampoline to see who could jump the highest. The bed survived the onslaught. The mattress did not.
The world outside presented a harrowing contrast. A single tarred road led to the hunting lodge, and the Forest Officer occupied the only other building. Jeep tracks meandered through the forest and the Maldhari herdsmen merged with the hard, brown earth, living in poverty with their cattle in villages scattered across the 1400 sq. km of the sanctuary. In this semi-desert region agriculture was impossible.
Coming here now what a difference I found. We drove in from Rajkot on ribbon-smooth roads to the peripheral areas of the sanctuary — all neat, well-planned and free of garbage. With tourism has come unimaginable prosperity. Accommodation ranges from dharamsalas and budget hotels to the lordly Taj; canals supply water for gardens and cultivation; and local children study at an English medium school.
Our first safari started off rather tamely. I had the front seat in the jeep and couldn’t hear what the guide was saying. My information came solely from the grumpy driver who pointed out ‘snake’, ‘deer’, ‘mongoose’ and other uninspiring fauna in a single word. ‘Budd’ had me stumped, till he amplified. ‘Peacock’, he said.
It was just half an hour to closing time when we got the exciting news. A tracker came and whispered to the guide, who passed along the magic word ‘lion’. We took our place in a line of jeeps and waited in reverential silence as if in church. At last it was our turn to enter the sanctum and we moved down a track deep into the jungle. There, under the shade of a tree, we came upon them, two lionesses and five cubs, feasting on a nilgai. A thrilling sight but a poor photo-op, for the evening sun cast too many shadows and the lionesses were sitting low in the long grass, while bits and pieces of cub flashed in and out of the frame three-quarters two pointy ears, half a puckered face, a raised paw, a tail tip.
Later we encountered two angry lionesses rearing up on their hind legs, clawing and snarling at each other. Photo-op? Alas no! They were so enraged that our jeep had to keep a safe distance.
Back at the resort, everyone was envious. Some unfortunates had spent a packet on as many as three safaris, and seen only monkey, deer, and, of course, ‘budd’. Tourists often think that a lion sighting is guaranteed and, when disappointed, are vocal in their displeasure. A manager was once rudely roused from his slumbers by angry guests who had been out in vain since 5 a.m. They staged a gherao and shouted slogans, ‘Paisa vasool, paisa vasool’, demanding their money back.
The kings of the forest are as lazy as feudal monarchs. The male has only to guard his territory and propagate, which he does with maniacal zest. Everything else is left to the lioness. She must hunt for prey, feed and train her cubs and protect them from predators, including other lions. An adult male is the lord of his territory and eliminates all future rivals including his progeny, knowing that otherwise they will kill him when in their prime. The ‘sons’ in a pride are therefore highly prized, pampered and protected, both by their mothers and the Forest Officers. Patriarchy is as invidious in the jungle as outside it.
Lions are far more human-friendly than leopards or tigers, but only as long as one keeps within limits. In earlier days, the ‘pagis’ or traditional trackers, ever eager to display their affinity with the animal to visiting dignitaries, would place a handkerchief on the mane of a sleeping lion with the help of a stick, while another would retrieve it. However, one day, legend has it that the lion suddenly woke up, and both entertainment and entertainer came to a gory end.
Then there was the biker on his way to a local temple. Seeing a gorgeously maned specimen sitting quietly by the roadside, he whipped out his phone-camera and edged closer and closer until the lion took umbrage, and with a mighty swipe of its paw dispatched the foolish young man to the other world. In the jungle this lordly animal is king, and mere humans who disrespect his royal status pay a heavy price.

Lions, temples, mangoes, Gir Somnath gets them all.

Gopal Kateshiya : Rajkot, Sat Aug 31 2013, 03:21 hrs
The creation of Gir Somnath by bifurcating Junagadh district, the land of Asiatic lions in Saurashtra, has not gone down well with some in Junagadh, but those falling in the new district are gleeful at the prospect of new possibilities.
Gir Somnath has been created by axing Una, Talala, Kodinar, Veraval and Sutrapada talukas away from Junagadh. However, small-scale protests are going on in Talala to retain Sasan Gir, the headquarters of state forest department which handles lion safaris, and a few other villages in Junagadh.
Even as the Gujarat government is fighting a legal battle against the translocation of lions to Madhya Pradesh, the protesters fear Junagadh will lose its identity if Sasan Gir, a village of Talala taluka, goes to Gir Somnath. Besides the famous Somnath temple, all major industrial complexes and a coastline, measuring 110-kilometre and dotted by eight ports, have already become part of the new district. The cement plant of Ambuja in Kodinar, arguably the biggest industrial establishment in the undivided Junagadh district, is now in Gir Somnath. Similarly, the cement plant of Gujarat Siddhi Cement Limited is also located in Sutrapada taluka. Indian Rayon, a major producer of viscose filament yarn of Aditya Birla Group, is based in Veraval town. Veraval also hosts a number of sea-food processing units.
However, without Gir forests as its part, the nomenclature of the new district will sound somewhat irrelevant. Local Congress MLA Jashubhai Barad is also against dividing Talala. "There is politics behind these protests. Those protesting the annexation of Sasan Gir, Bhalchhel, Haripur, Hiranvel and Bhojde villages into Gir Somnath are demanding not to divide Gir and Girnar. However, the residents of these villages want to be part of the new district and they are also demanding that Gir can't be taken away from them. So, the entire Talala taluka has to be with Gir Somnath," Barad says.
Incidentally, Talala is the largest producer and market of Kesar mango in the state. Barad says the creation of new district will augur well for the region. "There is tremendous potential to promote eco and religious tourism here. A tourism circuit covering Sasan Gir, Somnath and Diu needs to be developed with better infrastructure. While the cement industry has scope for further expansion, ports also need to be upgraded," the MLA says.
The new district has eight ports and harbours ?Veraval, Hirakot, Mul Dwarka, Madhvad, Kotda, Nava Bandar, Saiyad Rajapara and Dhamrej. It is likely to give a unitary identity to fisherman communities of Kharvas and and Kolis and facilitate their organisation as a political constituency. "So far we have been under-represented in politics and government. However, the new district will have a concentration of around 1.5 lakh Kharvas. This will help us get recognition as a political constituency," says Velji Masani, vice-president of Gujarat Fishermen Association.
Masani is also hopeful that the new administration will pay attention to the development of ports. "As of now Veraval port has the facility to harbour 1,000 fishing trawlers. However, there is a scope for its development and the expansion of its capacity to 2,500 trawlers. Dredging also remains a problem at this port. We hope the new administration addresses these issues," he adds.
Meanwhile, the new administration has identified cleanliness in Veraval town, the headquarters of the new district, as its top priority. "Besides being a port town, Veraval also sustains the rush of pilgrims at Somnath. So, cleanliness is a major problem. We shall put in place a system for solid waste management and lay under-ground drains on priority basis," Chandu Patel, collector of Gir Somnath, says.
Shree Somnath Trust, which manages Somnath temple enshrining Aadi jyotirling of Lord Shiva, expects improvement in connectivity to the temple. "We would welcome improvement in highways leading to the temple. We also need to develop some solutions to counter the smell emanating from fish drying yards of Veraval. They are sometimes hung near the temple premises," Pravin Laheri, secretary of the trust says.
According to Laheri, 30,000 pilgrims on an average visit the temple everyday.
Whether Sasan Gir stays with Gir Somnath or goes back to Junagadh, the collector of the new district will likely host a number of VIP visitors, including LK Advani, who comes to the shrine frequently for darshan.

Attacked by lions man lands in hospital.

Express News Service : Rajkot, Mon Aug 26 2013, 03:08 hrs
A man was injured after he was attacked by lions near Savarkundla in Amreli district on Sunday afternoon.
Savarkundla police said that Chandu Patadia (30) was injured after a lion attacked him near the town. After primary treatment at a local hospital, Patadia was referred to the Civil Hospital in Amreli.
Confirming the attack on Patadia, deputy conservator of forest (DCF) of Gir East, Anshuman Sharma, said, "A lion pride with cubs is roaming in the area. We have asked our staff to track the pride and lure the lions to a safer area."
Leopard found dead
A male leopard, believed to be three to four years old, was found dead in Piplav village of Khambha taluka of Amreli on Saturday afternoon.
"The leopard was stuck in a bush near a farm. A post-mortem has concluded that the leopard died of multiple organ failure. We have sent samples to veterinary college of Anand Agricultural University in Anand to know the exact cause of the death," Sharma said.
There was no injury mark on the leopard's body but its lungs were clotted and lever was also not functioning properly, Sharma said.

Endangered Asiatic lion cub born at French zoo.

AFP  |  Paris  August 22, 2013 Last Updated at 22:32 IST
A rare Asiatic lion cub, whose species is endangered with only about 350 in the wild, has been born at a zoo in the French city of Besancon, officials said today.

"It's a baby girl, she is in great shape. We are observing her in the big-cat house from a distance thanks to a system of cameras," Gerard Galliot, chief conservationist at the zoo at the Citadel of Besancon, told AFP.

The cub was born on August 14 and weighs about 1.5 kilogrammes (3.3 pounds). She is expected to reach a weight of 130 kilogrammes (285 pounds) within two years.

Her father Tejas, born at a zoo in the British city of Bristol, arrived in Besancon, in eastern France, in 2008, while her mother, Shiva, was born in Besancon in 2005.

Listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature () Red List, the Asiatic lion (panthera leo persica) was once widely distributed across southwest but is now restricted to a single population in 's Gir Forest.

'Shift lions from farms to forest'

TNN Aug 22, 2013, 11.07PM IST
RAJKOT: Members of the BharatiyaKisanSangh (BKS) in Amreli district have strongly demanded shifting of Asiatic lions and leopards that have ventured in the revenue areas in order to avoid man-animal conflict.
The BKS members sat on a dharna at the mamlatdar office in Khambha on Thursday.
The demand to shift the lions stems from the arrest of five farmers after a lion was electrocuted in Moti Monpari village of Junagadh's Visavadar taluka recently. A magisterial court in Visavadar has refused bail to Jaman Dobaria, Vallabh Dobaria, Balu Dobaria, Ratial Dobaria and Jenti Dobaria.

They were arrested after the forest officials found the lion's body stuck in a pipeline of a causeway near the village on August 6. Forest officials said that the wild cat was electrocuted in the farm of Vallabh Dobaria who had installed a live electric fence around his farm to keep wild animals from damaging crop.
"The farmers are being victimized by forest department and we are helpless because wild animals enter our fields which don't fall under forest areas. When they die accidentally, farmers are being punished. Therefore, we have demanded that wild animals like leopard and lions be moved from our farms to forest areas," said Labhubhai Gajera, BKS president in Khambha.
The forest department along with Paschim Gujarat Vij Company Ltd (PGVCL) has also launched a drive to disconnect power supply to farmers who use the electric fencing to ward off wild animals because lions often become victims.
There are nearly 100 lions in Amreli district alone.
'We will continue our agitation till our demands are accepted by the government," said Gajera.
BKS leaders also submitted a memorandum to the mamlatdar in Khambha in this regard.

Leopard killed by Asiatic lion in Semredi area of Gir forest.

Press Trust of India  |  Vadodara  August 25, 2013 Last Updated at 20:56 IST

An 11-year-old leopard is believed to have been killed by an Asiatic lion in the Semredi area of the Dalkhania range of the Gir forest in Amreli district few days ago, a senior official said today.

"The carcass was recovered yesterday," Deputy Conservator of Forest (Dhari West) Anshuman Sharma told PTI today evening.

Sharma suspected infighting between the lion and the leopard to be reason for the leopard's death.

The post-mortem report has confirmed the cause of death, Sharma said, adding that lions are known to kill leopards in territorial fights.