Friday, January 29, 2016

Lion Queens make Gir sanctuary a roaring success.

TNN | Jan 7, 2016, 02.28 PM IST
Pune: Darshanaben Kagada is one among eight siblings from a traditional Rajput family. The prospect that she would be a forester at Gujarat's Gir sanctuary, and become a part of the Lion Queens of India, probably never struck her kin.

Kagada, along with Kiran Pithiya, and their leader, Rasilaben Wadher, are a team of four foresters and guards at the world's last open wildlife refuge for Asiatic lions. They have been working in the Gir forests ever since the state government allowed women forest guards in 2007.

Recently, their work to save one of the most endangered species on the planet has grabbed the attention in the western media, and their lives in the forests were telecast by a popular nature channel. Kagada and her two colleagues are in Pune to receive the Kirloskar Vasundhara Satkar (felicitation) at the 10th edition of Kirloskar Vasundhara International Film Festival on Thursday.

"All my siblings are girls. They were married at a young age because that is the outlook my father and most families in my community have. I am probably one of the very few, or maybe the only one doing such a job," she told TOI on Wednesday.

The journey so far has not been smooth. "There are challenges_inclement weather and lions to be tracked all the time, especially when cubs are born. The area is huge and we have to travel great lengths to ensure the safety of all the animals, not just lions. But it is the satisfaction that we are working with nature and working hard to preserve it for all who come to see the lions," Kagada added.

Tracking has helped keep the Asiatic lion's population healthy. For a species which numbered in double digits in the 1990s, the 2015 lion count stood at around 523.

"The tracking process is thorough. It is through pug marks which can be spotted by trained eyes in and around the water sources because they will come every day. Spotting and photographing lions is also a method while we are in a car or on motorcycle patrols," Pithiya added.
They even have a rapport with the animals, particularly the lions, by noticing their pattern of behaviour, which helps of they turn against the people assigned to protect tem.

"Lionesses are very protective of cubs. Sometimes, we are compelled to rescue the cubs and lions separated from their pack. They can attack us when we check the cubs' conditions. A stick and the motorcycle mostly do the trick, but depending on the lion's size, a tranquilizer is used," Kagada said.

The job sounds like a life of adventure, but the women admit their families think otherwise. "My husband is also a forest guard, and is supportive. I once brought my mother from my village to look at the lions. When she saw what I did, she demanded that I quit ," Pithiya said.

And how long are they willing to work in wilderness ? "As long as our love for nature remains," Kagada said with a laugh.

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