For the record, Gujarat has lost as many as six lions since the beginning of 2014. And, conservationists say this is a worrying trend because the deaths were the result of man-animal conflict even if all the six deaths were unintentional.
Incidentally, the state government, in a reply to the assembly in 2013, said 92 Asiatic lions had died, including 83 natural deaths, in the past two years (2011, 2012) in the Saurashtra region. This meant the number of unnatural deaths during those two years was nine.
In 2014, the government, replying to a question in the assembly, said the deaths were 83 for 2013 and 2012 and only one death was unnatural — after a lion fell into a well. Now, going by these reports, 2014 seems to be a deadly year for the big cats following six deaths in the first four months of the year.
Dinesh Goswami of Prakruti Nature Club said it was imperative to create awareness and sensitivity about lions. "Rajula, Liliya and Jafrabad alone are home to around 100 to 150 lions. It is obvious that they will cross the roads and railway tracks and you cannot stop them. So, the next best thing is to create awareness among people, including drivers who cross the area. We can create road signs saying, 'Lion territory, go slow' or something of that sort," he said.
Goswami stated that another reason was that as more and more lions are spotted outside the sanctuary, people come to see the animals out of curiosity. "Many of these people are outsiders who do not go to Gir but prefer coming here. Lions are animals that usually don't attack humans but if harassed turn violent leading to further man-animal conflict," he pointed out.
An official of the forest department said it was indeed a worrying trend and the department was working on medium and long-term solutions. "After three lions were killed on the track, we took up the matter with the railway department. The forest department even imparted training to 82 drivers to sensitise them about lions, why the cats need to be protected and what can the drivers do to ensure the safety of the animals if found on the tracks," he said, adding that signs would also be put up on the roads.
Goswami further stated that staff crunch in the forest department only added to the woes. "There is a shortage of staff and vehicles in the forest department. How can the officials keep track of lions while working under such constraints? It is time the forest department identifies areas that have a large lion population outside the Gir sanctuary and have a team dedicated for them. For, if such accidents continue, we will end up ruining our own record in lion conservation," he said.
Chief wildlife warden CN Pandey was not available for comment.
Jan 22, 2014: Two lionesses — one of them pregnant — were killed after being hit by a train on its way to Pipavav Port. The animals were hit while trying to cross a track between Dehra and Pasada villages in Rajula taluka of Amreli district
Feb 24, 2014: A two-and-a-half year old male lion was killed by a moving train in Amreli district. The lion was injured but died during treatment
April 1, 2014: Two cubs were run over by a truck in Hemal village of Jafrabad taluka of Amreli district
April 2: A cub drowned falling into a well in Amreli district