Ahmedabad: The good news is that there are now 112 more Asiatic lions in Gujarat than there were in 2010. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi's thrilled. "News that made me very happy- 27% increase in Asiatic lions. Kudos to locals, officials & wildlife lovers whose efforts led to this," Mr Modi tweeted.
The not-so-good news, at least for humans, is that 93 of those magnificent but deadly beasts have been spotted outside the area of the Gir National Park & Wildlife Sanctuary, that is, closer to human habitats.
Five years ago, only 74 out of 411 Asiatic lions were found outside the National Park. This year, 93 of 523 lions -- a 126 percent increase from 2010 -- have moved beyond the protected areas of the National Park, according to the 14th Asiatic Lion Census 2015. Lions have now been spotted in Amreli and Bhavnagar districts in Saurashtra, which are 50-100 kms from the National Park. The Gir covers an area of 22,000 square kilometres - almost double the area covered in 2010.
Forest officials say that the movement of lions to newer areas is good, because it means more breeding bases are being created. Along with those increased bases, though, wildlife authorities also see the need to increase the size and number of protected areas for the Asiatic lions. This will keep man-animal conflict under check and also allow better wildlife management, they say.
Forest officials add that communications links between forest patrol teams, in areas where lions are in big numbers, has to be improved. "We also need to create more awareness amongst the 'maldharis' -- the locals livings in the forest areas -- on how to avoid man-animal conflict, and, more importantly, on how to improve the landscape, which includes increasing the prey base in the forests," says Dr Sandeep Kumar, Deputy Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), Gir.
Even Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel stressed the need for better coordinated efforts for the conservation of Asiatic lions. "The responsibility is not just of the forest department. We will have to involve other departments like irrigation, revenue, non-governmental organizations," she said.