by Alok Brahmbhatt, Ahmedabad Mirror | Updated: Jun 12, 2017, 09.41 AM IST
It was only two years ago that flash floods wreaked havoc in Amreli and
Bhavnagar districts, killing 10 Asiatic lions, more than 1,600 blue
bulls and around 90 spotted deer. But Gujarat forest department has yet
not learnt its lesson.
For four days now, it has been raining
incessantly in Amreli and other parts of east Gir, where the density of
Asiatic lions is the highest. By now a monsoon action plan should have
been executed to keep these animals safe. However, forest officials are
yet to meet and discuss the plan. There seems to be no urgency even now
-the officials are in no mood to meet before the scheduled date of June
Savarkundla, Liliya and surrounding areas of Amreli have
the highest density of lion population according to the census conducted
in 2015. The same year, during the torrential rains, carcasses of
around 10 lions were found around the banks of Shetrunji river. The
flash floods, with water level rising up to nine feet, badly affected
and disturbed the riverine ecosystem of Shetrunji and surrounding areas
of Amreli and Bhavnagar districts. As per the lion census, there were
around 80 lions in Savarkundla, Liliya and adjoining areas of Amreli.
In the past four days, heavy rainfall has been recorded in these areas.
These areas have a flat terrain with bushes on both sides of the river,
making it an ideal habitat for the lions to breed and hunt. A flat
terrain, however, is more risky during the floods as it turns marshy.
When that happens, neither can the lions move out nor can forest
officials venture in to rescue them.
Manoj Joshi, who has been active in environmental conservation and
protection activities in Liliya for over 15 years said, “It is mandatory
to have a foolproof monsoon plan ready before it rains because the soil
in the area is such that even if there is a 2-inch rainfall, the place
becomes marshy and slippery. So, it gets difficult to rescue lions or
safeguard the lionesses and the cubs."
Wildlife enthusiast and
photographer Rajan Joshi said, “I checked with forest offices in the
region, but the officials were all busy in some government function. I
am told it has already rained about 4 inches in the past couple of days.
If no measures are taken immediately it may become impossible to
safeguard the lions that are easily sighted in this area."
Every year, during monsoon, forest department takes stock of its
wireless communication systems, emergency vehicles and equipment as part
of its disaster-preparedness plan. They also service and sharpen the
saws because there are several instances of trees getting uprooted.
However, there is no plan specific to lion conservation, said sources.
The forest department team keeps track of lion movement during the
monsoon and ensures lives are not at risk due to flooding.
Locals in Liliya and Krankach say that it is easier to spot lions here
than in Gir sanctuary because the feline population is dense here.
AP Singh, Chief Conservator of Forests, Junagadh Wildlife Circle, told Mirror,
“We execute an action plan every year. There is a set process to do it.
This year we have not executed it yet because the officials were busy
with Shala Praveshotsav. We will conduct a meeting on June 15 and
Criticising the forest department for inaction,
environmental activist Bhikhubhai Batwala said, “The monsoon plan should
have been prepared before the rains. There are a few measures I have
been suggesting to ensure the lions are safe." His suggestions include
artificial hills so that during flood-like situation, the lions can
climb up to a safe location instead of getting trapped in marshy fields.
He added, “There are no trees in the area as the water is saline. But
there are some trees that can grow in such soil. These should be
transplanted here from other location so that the lions can climb to
safety during floods. Besides, these trees can also provide them shelter