Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Gujarat has made Gir lions a prestige issue: Madhya Pradesh

| TNN | Updated: Jan 30, 2018, 08:12 IST
Representative imageRepresentative image
BHOPAL: For the first time in the 27-year tussle, Madhya Pradesh government has gone on record to allege that Gujarat government has made it a "prestige issue" not to shift Gir lions to Kuno despite a Supreme Court ruling.
Neither the chief minister nor senior forest officials have ever given any official statement on the stalemate in recent years. In fact, chief wildlife wardens of MP had stopped responding to media inquiries on the row between two BJP-ruled states.

At the 16th meeting of the MP state wildlife board, the stalemate was discussed at length and it was unanimously decided that tigers would be shifted to Kuno, given that Gujarat is not ready to share its lions. The bombshell is tucked away in order number 1 of the minutes of the meeting: "Considering the fact that despite rehabilitation of people in 24 villages from Kuno around 20 years ago and notwithstanding the Supreme Court order of 2013, Gujarat was not ready to shift Gir lions making it their 'prestige issue', it would be better to shift dispersing tigers to that place to avert man-animal conflicts in the state."

Wildlife activist Ajay Dubey, who has filed a contempt petition in Supreme Court, demanding action against the Centre and Gujarat government for not implementing the SC order of April 2013, has questioned the MP government's stand. He finds the order of the 16th meeting "highly objectionable", and says: "When they accept that Gujarat has made it a prestige issue, why don't they file a contempt petition in court? They could have, at least, supported my petition on the same cause in court. It's a dubious stand. If it's a prestige issue for Gujarat, why isn't it for MP as well when they have done everything that was required — including shifting hundreds of poor villagers and taking away their livelihood?"
When shortage of prey base was cited as one of the major objections, the MP government had gone to the extent of declaring 700 sq km as a protected area to resolve the issue. After MP won the eight-year-long legal battle in 2013, Gujarat has been dilly-dallying on compliance, say MP officials. Madhya Pradesh went to the extent of suggesting that they were not averse to retaining the tag of 'Gir' or 'Gujarat' to identify the relocated lions at their new home in Kuno-Palpur.

The move for relocation of big cats, first mooted in 1991, had been hanging fire because Gujarat had refused to part with the majestic lions since that state holds the unique distinction of having the natural habitat of the only surviving Asiatic lions. While conservationists insisted that diversifying the lions' habitat would ward off any natural, medical or man-made calamity that could wipe out the entire population, Gujarat treated the issue as a matter of pride and wanted to retain its unique status to continue to attract the substantial tourist inflow to Gir. After the Supreme Court finally resolved the issue in favour of relocation, Gujarat is left with little choice but to comply.


Dudley Zoo lion Jetpur dies in sleep aged 14

By David Cosgrove | Dudley entertainment | Published:
Dudley Zoo's male lion Jetpur has died aged 14, the venue has announced.
The Asiatic lion – who was born at the zoo in July 2003 – passed away in his sleep overnight, according to bosses.
Jetpur was described as 'a popular cat with his keepers' whose 'legacy will live on'.
After he was born at the zoo to parents Max and Gir in 2003, Jetpur moved to Mulhouse Zoological and Botanical Park in France in 2005 as part of a European conservation programme.
He returned home to the Black Country a decade later in October 2015 to join the zoo's two lioness sisters, Kyra and Asha, in the one-acre Lion Ridge.
Curator Richard Brown said: “Jetpur was a very placid lion and was a popular cat with his keepers.
“However his legacy will live on, as he sired eight cubs during his time in France, who went on to start families of their own in collections around Europe.
“His offspring have gone on to have a total of 16 cubs and he was also a great-grandfather to a further four.”
A short announcement by the zoo said: "It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Dudley Zoo's majestic male Asiatic lion, Jetpur."
The zoo is awaiting a full veterinary report to establish Jetpur's cause of death.
Asiatic lions are listed as endangered, and there are only several hundred surviving in the wild.
These are restricted to the Gir Forest Wildlife Sanctuary in Western India, which is an area smaller than Greater London.

Read more at https://www.expressandstar.com/entertainment/dudley-entertainment/2018/01/29/dudley-zoo-lion-jetpur-dies-in-sleep-aged-14/#bJR90Ijk4y2Xau2z.99

Asiatic Cheetahs On Verge Of Extinction With Less Than 50 Remaining In The Wild

With UN conservation funds being cut this month, Asiatic cheetahs are now on the brink of extinction, with less than 50 remaining in the wild.

Iranian conservationist Jamshid Parchizadeh, said in The Guardian

Lack of funding means extinction for the Asiatic cheetah, I’m afraid. Iran has already suffered from the loss of the Asiatic Lion and the Caspian tiger. Now we are about to see the Asiatic cheetah go extinct as well.

Cheetahs, both Asian and African, are the fastest land animals on Earth, capable of reaching speeds of up to 120kph (76mph). They use their speed to hunt down gazelle, antelope and other moderately large prey.

Source: The Iran Project

Their numbers reduced greatly during the 19th and 20th century when they were hunted for sport in India. It wasn’t long before cheetahs were wiped out in all their native countries, with the exception of Iran. Conservationists have fought hard to keep their numbers up but have admitted to facing severe problems, with biologist Sam Williams of the University of Venda, South Africa, saying:

There have been all sorts of threats to the Asiatic cheetah… they are hunted and killed by local herders – of sheep and goats – because [they] will occasionally kill and eat one of their animals.

In addition to this, cheetahs are often run over while roaming over highways in Iran. Despite the many signs warning drivers of their presence, dozens have been killed. New mining operations have also opened in Iran, further endangering them.

Many measures have been taken to help raise awareness of the cheetah’s plight. In 2014, the Iranian national football team announced that their World Cup and Asian Cup kits would be printed with pictures of the Asiatic cheetah. A crowdfunding conservation project was also set up whereupon August 31st was declared national Cheetah day. Sadly, the animal’s decline has continued.

Source: The Iran Project

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was able to support the Asiatic cheetah conservation project for a while, but due to major budget cuts, this support soon disappeared.

A spokesperson for the UNDP announced that it gave around $800,000 to the project over the past few years and they now have a better understanding of the number of cheetahs remaining as well as increasing the number of protected areas.

Parchizadeh and Williams wrote a joint letter to the journal Naturein which they said that without the agency’s support, there is little to no hope for the Asiatic cheetah:

Management of the project will now fall mainly to Iran’s department of the environment, the head of which has declared the cheetah ‘doomed to extinction’ on the basis of its declining numbers since 2001. We urge Iran’s government not to give up on cheetah conservation.

Source: The Guardian

The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) also backed up this point saying:

We need to give as much support as we can to Iran. Every other country in which the Asiatic cheetah once roamed allowed it to disappear. Iran managed to save it – until now. So we need to get international agencies to get help to the country’s conservationists as soon as possible.

The alternative is straightforward. Unless something is done within the next couple of years, it will not be possible to save the Asiatic cheetah. It is now five minutes to midnight for the species. Soon it will be midnight – and extinction.

If you would like to help stop these beautiful creatures from going extinct, you can donate to the CCF here.

H/t: The Guardian

Monday, January 29, 2018

After 22 deaths in 14 months, PTR to adopt Gir methods to deal with man-animal conflict

| TNN | Updated: Jan 26, 2018, 13:19 IST
PILIBHIT: After 22 people were mauled to death by tigers in and around Pilibhit tiger reserve in the past 14 months, the forest officials here have decided to adopt methods of Gir National Park in Gujarat to reduce man-animal conflict in the region. In Gir, which is home to 500 lions and around 600 leopards, incidents of big cats attacking and killing humans are rare.
An action plan being prepared by Adarsh Kumar, divisional director of social forestry, who had been sent to Gir by the state forest administration recently, will soon be sent to the state authorities for their approval.

According to Kumar, authorities in Gir have succeeded in overcoming the situation of man-animal conflict by ensuring that its well-equipped quick response teams (QRTs) of trained and experienced wildlife officials are on call round-the-clock.

The teams have adequate trained rescue staff who are equipped with nets, cages, tranquilizing guns, live baits and dart guns besides effective means of mobility, Kumar said. 
"The Gir forest authorities have an independent rescue department and the power to grant permission to tranquilize any big cat has been delegated up to the level of conservator there. Due to separate entity of rescue department, the teams are free to focus their exclusive attention on rescue operations with absolute preparedness," Kumar said.

"Lions in Gir pose no threat to villagers even when they move out of the forest area but leopards frequently barge into rural habitation in search of domestic cattle as prey. Despite this, the situation has never turned alarming as the QRTs trap one leopard there almost every two days," Kumar said.

By providing full security to the people living around Gir, the QTRs have won both trust and cooperation of the community, said the social forestry official. This in turn helps in practical application of rescue strategies without any resistance by villagers.

Comparing PTR with Gir, Kumar said, "The major drawback we face in Pilibhit in conducting rescue operations is the unprecedented aggression of villagers over any incident of a tiger straying into village areas. This is due to delay in our rescue operations which is influenced by lack of infrastructure, absence of separate QRTs and shortage of field force among other things."

On being asked about the proposed action plan, he said he would seek requisition of at least one independent QRT comprising four to five persons, including one dart shooter, for each of the five ranges of PTR and three of social forestry division. One additional QRT would be deployed in Amaria block area where five tigers have been living for the past five years, he added. PTR has 48 tigers.

Mumbai: Byculla Zoo set to get seven new enclosures

These seven new enclosures will house animals such as Asiatic lion, Bengal tiger, sloth bear, wolf, jackal and swamp deer.
Written by Dipti Singh | Mumbai | Published: January 25, 2018 4:21 am Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan, Byculla Zoo, new enclosures in Byculla Zoo, BMC, mumbai zoo, maharashtra, indian zoo, indian express, india wildlife The penguin enclosure at the Byculla zoo. Express Photo by Aishwarya Maheshwari.

THE Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan, also known as the Byculla Zoo, will soon get seven new enclosures. After scrapping tenders twice, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has finally appointed a contractor to build the enclosures.
These seven new enclosures will house animals such as Asiatic lion, Bengal tiger, sloth bear, wolf, jackal and swamp deer. The contract to build these seven enclosures has been awarded to Skyway constructions. After scrapping the previous contract, the BMC had issued two tenders worth Rs 120 crore, which had attracted responses from four contractors last year. As part of the new tenders, one contractor will be responsible for constructing 10 enclosures worth Rs 63 crore, while the other will have to make seven worth Rs 57 crore.
Four years after the Central Zoo Authority approved a revised masterplan for revamping the zoo, the project ran into a roadblock in May, when several contractors were disqualified on grounds of incomplete documents provided to BMC. A senior official said, “While construction work on the enclosures is on, we are working on procuring the animals.”
The official added, “The approval of tenders was delayed as we wanted to verify the credentials of the bidders and check the documents they had submitted before awarding the contracts.” According to sources, work on the enclosures is likely to begin after February. According to zoo authorities, the new animals would be sourced through exchange programmes with other zoos. Dr Sanjay Tripathi, director, Byculla Zoo, said,
“We had received a great response for the tenders, which we will table before the standing committee soon. We
are hoping to complete the project within 18 months of its commencement.”


Waiting for the Asiatic lion at Sasan-Gir

Aruna Chandaraju January 24, 2018 16:00 IST

At Sasan-Gir, the Asiatic lion makes a brief but spellbinding appearance

It was almost two hours into our drive through Sasan-Gir forest and we still hadn’t come across its most famous inhabitant — the Asiatic lion. We had seen many of the other dwellers of what is officially called the Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, located around 65 kilometres southeast of Junagadh district in Gujarat. Spread over a total area of 1,412 square kilometres, the National Park core area is 258 kilometres.

The other inhabitants made their appearance — two leopards on a tree, striped hyenas and the Indian fox. Also a sloth bear in the far distance, sambar and the chowsingha or four-horned antelope, which is the only one of its kind in the world. Like so many deer species, the antelope paused and stared briefly before scampering away into the interiors of the forest, much to the delight of our group, especially the photographers.

A few reptiles were also sighted, though the perfect camouflage meant that we almost missed them until a naturalist pointed them out. The Kamleshwar reservoir in the sanctuary is the best place to see the marsh crocodile. The park is also home to around 200 species of birds, including the pygmy woodpecker, brown fish owl, and the critically endangered white-backed and long-billed vultures. We did not sight these, but a dozen other species. The forest is also home to the wild ass and blackbuck. Exotic flora also contributes to the allure of Sasan-Gir.
But the celebrity, the Asiatic lion... He was nowhere to be seen. The Sasan-Gir sanctuary is the only natural habitat in the world, outside Africa, of the Asiatic lion; the only place where you can see them roaming free in the wild.

Finally, we spotted the king of the jungle, or rather a wildlife photographer in our group spotted him — and gestured frantically to the rest of us. The vehicle slowed down and came to a halt. The Asiatic lion, which was resting in the shade of a tree, yawned, rose slowly and crossed the path, though at quite a distance. We held our breath and watched. Cameras and cellphones captured images and videos. It was all over in barely 10 seconds... but it was the experience of a lifetime.
According to the 2015 census, currently, there are around 523 lions spread over the four districts that the forest spans. Among these, are 106 male, 201 female and 213 sub-adults, the naturalist added. This is good news, considering that indiscriminate hunting had led to the dwindling of their population.
Fortunately, due to the efforts of the Government and conservationists, the lion population has risen gradually. Even the Maldhari tribe, which lives in this region, is being compensated monetarily by the Government for the loss of their cattle by the lions.
In Junagadh
After Sasan-Gir, it was time for Junagadh town, a former princely state with a long history. With little time on our hands, we rushed through the must-sees in and around the town. There was the spectacular Mahabat Maqbara, which was sadly not so well-maintained and there were restrictions on entry. The Uparkot Fort, another historic structure, is worth a visit. A modern structure, the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, was impressive. We had no time for the Jain Derasar.
However, our bus briefly stopped on the outskirts of town so we could pick up some local delicacies like mohanthal, ghari and ghugra, before embarking on the next leg of our journey.

Kankai webpage revised, no word on private guides

| TNN | Jan 22, 2018, 17:00 ISTAHMEDABAD: Gujarat tourism department has revised its advisory asking tourists to hire private guides and transporters for spending the night at Kankai Mataji temple deep within Gir forest. However, the department has now clarified that only 50 'devotees' (people whose 'kul devi' is Kankai Mataji) can stay overnight in the temple. Earlier, it had invited all tourists to have a night stay at Kankai.

On January 19, the Times of India had carried a report titled, "At Kankai, govt goes against own rule." The report had revealed how the state tourism department had been ignoring its own forest laws and allowing numerous tourists to halt at night in the Kankai temple located in the heart of Gir sanctuary. Under the rules, the forest department can allow night stay to not more than 50 devotees at a time.

In September 2017, the Gujarat government had issued a notification allowing 50 devotees (only for rituals) to stay overnight at Kankai Mataji temple in the Gir forests. However, the Gujarat tourism website continued to invite all tourists, 'advising' them to stay overnight and that too by hiring a private transporters. The Kankai temple page on the website said 50 km from Sasan Gir, there is a shrine to Kankai Mata, the protector of the shepherds of Gir forest.

However, the tourism department has now drastically changed all the information earlier available on its portal. Its website (which was corrected on Saturday) states: "In the heart of the jungle, 25 km from Sasan Gir, there is a shrine to Kankai Mata, the benefactor of the shepherds of Gir forest. A supremely wild place, here you can hear lions roar at night and animals gathering at the nearby lake. The Forest Department allows devotees; no more than 50 at a time, for night stay."

This image of Ravindra Jadeja with a lion cub is adorable

Members of the Indian Test team in South Africa took some time off from their training ahead of the third Test at the Wanderers Stadium on January 24 and visited the Kruger National Park in Johannesburg recently

Ravindra Jadeja
Ravindra Jadeja
Members of the Indian Test team in South Africa took some time off from their training ahead of the third Test at the Wanderers Stadium on January 24 and visited the Kruger National Park in Johannesburg recently. Opening batsman KL Rahul posted a picture on Twitter alongwith a cheetah and wrote: "Just a Lion and a Cheetah chilling."
All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja seemed rather comfortable as he slept next to a lion cub. His home state of Gujarat is also home to the world famous Gir forest which has an impressive lion population. "Sher! sher hota hai, chahe sasan gir mein ya Joburg mein. Pinjare mein sher ko bahut log pathar marte hain, asli mard unke saamne hote hain #lionselfie #rajputboy," he wrote which when translated reads: "A lion is a lion whether he is in Gir or in Johannesburg. When a lion is in a cage, many people throw stones at him but only a real man stands in front of a lion."
Jasprit Bumrah got a bit philosophical in his message: "Never become sad when life pulls you back, because lion also takes one step back when he wants to go for a long jump."

Kanpur: Lion cubs prepare for public appearance

  • By TOI
  • | Saturday | 20th January, 2018
Kanpur: Lion cubs prepare for public appearanceTwo cubs of an Asiatic lioness Nandini in a Kanpur zoo were brought out on Friday, almost three months after they were born underweight. The cubs were kept under constant monitoring of the zoo veterinarians during the initial stages of their birth as they were critical.
Kanpur: Lion cubs prepare for public appearance Two cubs of an Asiatic lioness Nandini in a Kanpur zoo were brought out on Friday, almost three months after they were born underweight.
The cubs were kept under constant monitoring of the zoo veterinarians during the initial stages of their birth as they were critical..

Online petition floated against tourists’ night stay

| Jan 19, 2018, 08:34 IST
AHMEDABAD: Participating in a three-day nature camp in Gir changed the perception of Manish Trivedi, a businessman from the city, who started an online petition asking the government to revoke its policy of granting devotees overnight stay inside Gir Sanctuary.
"I went to Gir forest in the last week of December and found that the government was permitting overnight stay inside the forest. Hence I decided to begin the online petition," Trivedi said.

The online petition "Save Nature Wildlife Stop Night Stay at Kankai Temple in Gir Forest," was initiated by Trivedi. The petition reads, "Gir forest and its wildlife including lions are threatened by the government policy to allow tourists or so-called religious people stay overnight at Kankai Temple in Gir Forest."

Trivedi said overnight stay will lead to many issues including noise pollution and even disturbance to the lions in the area. Further he said that this will generate plastic and other waste including human food leftovers and it will create an imbalance in the environment.

Tejika, the only Asiatic lioness at Nahargarh Biological Park, dies of cardiac arrest

The lioness had recently given birth to three cubs, including Tara, a female and two male cubs, Tripura and Tejas

HT Correspondent
At present, the park has 21 enclosures, where endangered animals, including lions, a tiger, and a leopard among others are housed in a natural surroundings.
At present, the park has 21 enclosures, where endangered animals, including lions, a tiger, and a leopard among others are housed in a natural surroundings.(Photo for representation)
A 6-year-old Asiatic lioness died of a cardiac arrest at the Nahargarh Biological Park near Jaipur, an official said on Wednesday.
The lioness, Tejika, died due to a cardiac arrest on Monday night and a caretaker at the zoo on routine check, found the animal dead and informed to the zoo authorities on Tuesday morning, said veterinary doctor at the zoo Arvind Mathur.
A post mortem has been conducted and samples of the viscera have been sent to the Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Bareilly and the Forensic Science Laboratory, he said.
Tejika, the only Asiatic lioness in the park, was brought from Gujarat’s Junagarh in January 2016.
The lioness had recently given birth to three cubs, including Tara, a female and two male cubs, Tripura and Tejas. The cubs were named by chief minister Vasundhara Raje, the official said.
“After a long time a lioness had given birth to cubs in the Jaipur zoo,” he said.
Of Tejika’s first litter of five cubs, with her mate Sidhharth, one was stillborn and the lioness has discarded the rest, Mathur said.
In March 2017, Tejika suffered from a serious infection but recovered after being treated a team of doctors from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, he said.
“In October, she suffered from posterior paralyses and recovered after treatment but this time she did not gave us any chance.”
The doctor said a lion’s age in wild is around 12-15 years and 18-20 years in captivity.
The forest department was considering starting a lion safari by April, and was planning to shift Tejika and her cubs to the specially built enclosure where the safari will conducted that already houses two lions, including Siddharth, a male, and Suhasini, a female.
At present, the park has 21 enclosures, where endangered animals, including lions, a tiger, and a leopard among others are housed in a natural surroundings.

As forests, wildlife and tribals exist in uneasy equilibrium, could lions be prey to sixth mass extinction?

Mridula Ramesh
Editor's note: From May 2017, Firstpost is featuring a fortnightly column by Mridula Ramesh, titled 'Climate Conversations'. In this column, we take a look at pressing issues pertaining to climate change — in an accessible way.
A pensive male lion in Sasan Gir. All photos courtesy Mridula Ramesh
A pensive male lion in Sasan Gir. All photos courtesy Mridula Ramesh
We are in the middle of the sixth great mass extinction in Earth’s history. To put this in perspective, Earth lost the dinosaurs in the last great mass extinction event,  65 million years ago — so this is kind of a big deal.
Experts say that Earth’s non-human vertebrates are facing “biological annihilation” by humanity. Lions, are “emblematic” of the problem. The lion once roamed over Africa, Southern Europe, Middle East and Northwest India. Today, it is confined to sub-Saharan Africa and a tiny pocket in Sasan Gir.
Given the biological and emotional centrality of lions, it’s worthwhile to ask: What’s going on?
Sasan Gir: Maldhari and Lion — a uneasy but stable equilibrium?
At 3.30 pm, on a cool December day, we were driving in a jeep through Zone 1 in Sasan Gir. I was not happy: Zone 1 is a less desirable zone (word to the wise: you want to be on Zones 2, 5 or 6) which winds around the periphery initially with a view to farmlands and villages. Our guide, sensing my mood and being a fantastic salesman, said “Male lion very lazy. It no like to hunt. It stay close to the fence and eat the buffalo.” Apparently, a quarter of the lion’s diet consists of livestock from the Maldhari herds that graze within the jungle.
As though to underline this reality, we came upon a Maldhari herdsman tending his herd of buffalo.
A Maldhari Herdsman
A Maldhari Herdsman
The Maldharis are traditionally nomadic cattle herdsman who have co-existed with the lions in Sasan Gir for over a century. One subgroup, the Ahirs, claim descendance from Lord Krishna. There are thousands of Maldhari residing within Gir, living in thatched settlements called nesses. They, with their over 20,000 livestock, share the sanctuary with the lions in an uneasy, but stable, equilibrium.
Peacocks on a Maldhari ness
Peacocks on a Maldhari ness
The lions prey on the livestock and feed off the carcasses. Indeed, the livestock support a higher lion density than if the lions had only the wild prey to feed on. The Maldharis, by living within the sanctuary, get free fodder for their cattle. The equilibrium makes sense… for now.
There are several elements that make it work:
  • Culturally, the Maldhari have a deep respect for nature. Maldharis tend to be vegetarian, so the carcasses are of no use to them while, they are easy meat for the lions.
  • The Maldharis are economically better off living within the sanctuary – even with the lions preying on their livestock. They have made the economics better by the way they arrange their herd: the less valuable cattle lead the herd, the valuable adult buffaloes are in the middle, and the less valuable juveniles form the rear-guard. The milch animals rarely leave the stable. This way they have ensured that the lion primarily gets the less valuable animals.
  • The park pays compensation — lower than the market value of a milch animal — but still worth about 51 days of earnings of a Maldhari herdsman.
  • The Maldharis have access to free fodder for their livestock, which even after adjusting for their losses due to lion predation, works out to Rs 11,04,373 per 100 livestock per year. A large amount to walk away from.
  • The lion, unlike the leopard, has not attacked the Maldhari in the past two decades.
  • The park employs guards and trackers to protect against any retaliation. Indeed the easiest way to spot a lion in Gir is to look for a guard, or a parked motorcycle that belongs to a forest employee.
The equilibrium was not always so peaceful. In the '70s, the situation was bad, with too many livestock living within the park. The lions killed, and the Maldharis retaliated, poisoning entire prides. A resettlement package was developed and about 70 percent of the Maldhari families were resettled out of the park. In the decades that followed, the park slowly renewed itself. The vegetation grew back, and with it, the herbivore population — the sambhar, the blue bull and the chital — all increased as well. The lion population grew — from about 205 lions in 1979 to 523 lions in Gir today.
Lion family within Sasan Gir
Lion family within Sasan Gir
But the Maldharis started coming back. Maybe they preferred life within the jungle. Or just maybe, the free fodder made good economic sense. And with them came their livestock. Today, livestock numbers are back at where they were at the height of the '70s.
Maldhari woman gathering water
Maldhari woman gathering water
The lion population is now spilling beyond the sanctuary (where there are no guards to protect them), while the Maldhari livestock population within the sanctuary is growing. This is not sustainable.
Tribal herdsman with his cattle
Tribal herdsman with his cattle
The Forest Right’s Act
Across India’s splintered forests, there is an uneasy coexistence of man — in his most vulnerable form — and beast.
The Forest Rights Act of 2006 (FRA) has decisively shifted power to the 100 million or so people who depend on forests for some part of their livelihood. The philosophy underlying the Act is this: tribal folk have always lived within the jungle, and, as such, have rights to the forest and its produce. These rights have been trampled on by the establishment from the times of the British. But this philosophy ignores one important trend: forest area has been shrinking and tribal populations have been growing. As Bittu Sahgal writes, “No rights can be championed, nor wildlife saved if the forests at the centre of the tussle vanish.”
Many champions of tribal rights also gloss over a phrase in paragraph 2 of the bare act: “the rights…also include the responsibilities and authority for sustainable use, conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecological balance…”.  And many aspects of the act may mean tribals will need to exist in an anachronistic bubble — condemned to rain-fed, subsistence farming. Not a good fate, especially in a warming climate. Hmm.
Moreover, the act is a strong political tool: by influencing its implementation, politicians have a strong card to play for tribal votes — over 100 million of them — philosophy be damned.
Daulat Singh Shaktawat, retired forest officer, Ranthambore, is famous as the man who was attacked by a tiger but bears it no ill will. The author of My Encounter with the Big Cat and a man who has spent a lifetime in the jungle, Shaktawat says, “In today’s scenario, wildlife and tribals cannot exist simultaneously. Forests are fragmented, much smaller than before, while the human population is growing fast. In the past, forests covered a very big area and housed a very small tribal population.”
In a test case, when a group of eight tigers were moved from Ranthambore to Sariska, one tiger died, and the rest did not do as well as the tigers in Ranthambore. Ranthambore’s tigers are better protected from outside intrusion than are the tigers in Sariska. When human contact with tigers increases, tigers get stressed. Many humans don’t breed well when stressed; unsurprisingly, it is the same for tigers. “T19 in Ranthambore is having her third litter,” says Shaktawat, “while her sister, T18, in Sariska has still not had her first litter.” The conclusion is clear: core areas of the jungle must remain inviolate for animals to thrive. Notably, the law does provide the exemption of “Critical wildlife habitats”, providing due process has been followed in resettlement of tribals.
Other threats to India’s forests
India’s forests face other onslaughts: roads, railways, dams, mining, farming and unsustainable tourism. India has lost over 14,000 square kilometres of forest over the past three decades to these.
The Sasan Gir sanctuary has a railway line running through it: the risk to lions being run over is significant. Animals are often run over by roads that cleave through the jungle. Dams submerge sections of forest, displacing or killing the former inhabitants.
Mining — legal or otherwise — are a serious threat to wildlife in many reserves across India. The Tadoba reserve faces an encirclement risk from coal mines, isolating the tiger population by preventing them from travelling to other reserves. Given the low utilisation of existing coal-powered power plants, it is perplexing why more clearances are given. Travelling in Zone 1 in Gir gives a stark picture of the battle between Farm and Forest.
Farm seen in Zone 1 of Sasan Gir
Farm seen in Zone 1 of Sasan Gir
Then there is the threat from unsustainable tourism. Tourism is important in creating an emotional bond between wildlife and the general population.
Waking up, Sasan Gir
Waking up, Sasan Gir
Nothing can quite take the place of one’s first big cat sighting — much like the first kiss, it is etched in one’s memory. But the key word is sustainable. In the mad rush to get a sighting, the jeeps pile up at the spots where the big cats are, with tourists gawking and being anything but respectful towards the animals. As the animals get accustomed to human proximity and vehicle sounds, they make easier targets for poachers. This is especially salient for tigers — whose various body parts are in high demand in China.
Intrusive tourism
Intrusive tourism
Tourism requires infrastructure — hotels, shops — to thrive. The ecological impact of sewage, power supply, and access are often ignored. Interviews in Gir confirm that there are almost twice as many illegal rooms as there are legal ones. Then there is the trash. Our guide told us that after a long weekend, it takes the forest department and the guides several days to clean up the litter that tourists leave behind.
With all these threats, when we wish to promote biodiversity and forests, Inviolate means Inviolate: it is not right (nor does it help wildlife) to trample on the vulnerable while turning a blind eye to other trespassers.
The FRA’s existence means man and beast need to coexist — it’s now about how to do so successfully.
Another success story: BR Hills
A much-cited success story of tribal-tiger cohabitation comes from another set of hills — the Biligiriranga (BR) Hills near Mysore, and the erstwhile home of the dreaded forest brigand, Veerappan. The Soligas, have been living in these forests since time immemorial, says Dr H Sudarshan, founder of Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra, an organisation that supports the sustainable development of tribal people with an emphasis on health, education and sustainable livelihoods. Why BR Hills is so interesting is that tiger populations appear to have grown while co-existing with their human brethren.
One often cited reason is culture. Identities of tribes are often tightly interwoven with the trees and the other inhabitants of the forest. Nature is worshipped, and has tremendous intrinsic value to the tribal populations. As such, this makes tribes fantastic natural protectors of wildlife — far better than armchair-city-part-time-environmentalists especially when powerful interests are involved, as was shown in the Bishnoi-Salman Khan-black buck poaching case.
But to maintain the ecological balance, stable tribal populations are key. “We must invest in good primary healthcare” says Dr Sudarshan. “If we can show the tribal woman that she will not lose her baby [to acute respiratory distress or diahorrhea], she herself will come in for family planning.” Another adaptation is to modify activities to minimise wildlife disruption: the Soligas have stopped practising shifting cultivation and hunting as forest sizes have shrunk. They now rely almost entirely on collecting minor forest produce and sustainable cultivation.
Another is to have a good understanding between forest management and tribals. Small adjustments in boundaries can spare much conflict without reducing the forest area, says Dr Sudarshan. It also helps if forest management is proactive, rather than colonial, in its approach. When co-existence has become an inescapable reality, mutual respect and discussion can go a long way in effective solutioning. This has not always been the case — and bad relations usually has one serious casualty: the forest itself, as was the case in the 2007 fires.
The fourth is to have an education system that reinforces the connection with nature while allowing tribals to seek new opportunities. With training, tribals can become the rangers, the forest officials and develop ecotourism in the area. These are jobs providing a steady income to guards who have a cultural affinity to the forest under their protection.
All tribes are not equal, nor are all members of a tribe the same. Younger members, especially today in age of WhatsApp, yearn for the outside world and all its lures and charms. For them, the jungle holds little appeal. Some tribes are tribes only in name, having been granted that “favour” by politicians hungry for their vote. They are not guardians of the forest. This is important to keep in mind while implementing the individual rights to forest land. False guardians can wreak havoc.
Resettled-and-returned Maldharis and the Soligas, who have tasted life outside and found it less sweet than the life and the rhythms within the forest, are different. They truly value the forest, and all its residents, perhaps more for the stint they spent outside. They understand that rights to the forests come with the responsibilities of being its true guardians.
What does this have to do with the climate?
India, especially Gujarat will be hit hard by climate change — both by rising temperatures, and importantly, for Sasan Gir and Saurashtra, by increasing drought. This means the competition for resources — especially water — between man, his herds and the beast, will escalate. Across India, a drier climate increases the value of forests, because they harness water and give rise to rivers. Several rivers, including the Hiran, originate in Sasan Gir — supporting wildlife and downstream farms and cities. These rivers can mean the difference between life and death for millions when the climate becomes drier.
Kamleshwar Dam at the origin of the Hiran river within Sasan Gir
Kamleshwar Dam at the origin of the Hiran river within Sasan Gir
India has publicly committed to increasing its forest area under the Paris climate accord. A wonderful win-win would be to create corridors between reserves so that small populations of wildlife do not get genetically isolated. This will mean that human interests must be managed. Forests are wonderful carbon sinks and even with a nominal carbon price of $5 per tonne of CO2, had a value of $6,00,000 crores in 2009.One idea is to use the proceeds from future carbon markets to compensate such interests — by making regular, as opposed to one-time payments, incentives can be better aligned.
For the sake of our forests, our tribes and our wildlife, we need people across the spectrum — the tribes, tribal rights champions, the forest department and wildlife conservationists to talk with an open mind. Ravi Chellam, wildlife biologist, agrees, “Whether or not you like the law, the Forests Right Law is a law, and has to be followed. And today, more people across the spectrum are talking…when the law [FRA] came out, many conservationists thought this would unleash a fresh wave of extinctions. This hasn’t happened. And people are getting older, and maybe wiser.”
There are no easy answers, but perhaps we can take hope that in the midst of growing population and infrastructure, big cat numbers have improved in the past decade. The battle is not lost, but the war is far from over.
The writer is the founder of the Sundaram Climate Institute, cleantech angel investor, teacher and author of a forthcoming book on Climate Change and India. Follow her work on her website; on Twitter; or write to her at cc@climaction.net

Published Date: Jan 15, 2018 13:14 PM | Updated Date: Jan 21, 2018 15:38 PM

Gir Lions for MP

January 12, 2018 4:18 pm
Ultimately the Gujarat Government has agreed to relocate some of its speciality Gir Lions in Madhya Pradesh at Kuno-Palpur Tiger sanctuary in Morena District.
Way back in April 2013 the Supreme Court took note of over population of lions in the Gir Forest of Gujarat beyond the capacity of 650 lions and asked it to relocate some of it about 6 of Gir lions in Madhya Pradesh.
But the Gujarat government declined to comply with the Supreme Court putting up a lame excuse of Gir lions being it single out identity. It was narrow mindedness of Gujarat.
Now on contempt petition before the Supreme Court for non-compliance of its earlier order the Central Government has informed the court that a committee has constituted for shifting of Gir lions from Gujarat to Kano in Madhya Pradesh.
Gir lions known as “Babbar” lions are found in India only in Gir Gujarat otherwise it are available in abundance in Africa.
But it is magnanimity of Madhya Pradesh that there was only one white tiger remained in the world in the forest of Bandhavgarh. It was almost extinct species but from one white tiger named Mohan. Madhya Pradesh produced many more white tiger and given it over to the whole world.

Simba, the lion, passes away at Karachi zoo

KARACHI: A 10-year-old lion, identified as Simba, was found dead in his enclosure at the Karachi Zoological Gardens on Tuesday.
Authorities confirmed that two lions, including Simba, were brought to the zoo on October 19 last year. The lions were rescued from an illegal circus in Karachi’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal locality.
The lion was unwell since Sunday, the zoo authorities informed, adding that the lion was also being treated.
The cause of the death has yet to be ascertained.
On the other hand, the other lion brought into the zoo with Simba, Rajoo, is in good health condition, confirmed the zoo authorities.
Simba was an Asiatic lion, which has been listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List because of its small population size.
On April 30, 2016, a Bengal tiger had died at the Karachi zoo due to kidney failure.

Foreigners can book Gir visit online

| Jan 9, 2018, 04:00 IST
As the facility will make the online process easier for foreign tourists, it is expected that their numbers will rise significantlyAs the facility will make the online process easier for foreign tourists, it is expected that their numbers wi... Read More
Rajkot: Foreign tourists would soon be able to book their visits to Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary sitting in their homes.
The forest department is in talks with several banks to facilitate payment in international currencies on its safari booking website www.girlion.com to facilitate foreigners who are coming in large numbers to watch 'Gujarat's pride.' It is expected that within a month foreigners will be able to book and make payments online from their respective countries.

At present, the foreigners wanting to visit the national park of Devaliya interpretation zone can take online permits only when they come to India and pay in local currency. Currently, this facility is available only to Indian tourists.
After the tie-up with banks, these visitors will be able to use their international credit or debit cards on the booking portal to pay tourist permit charges. The Indian banks will convert the foreign currency and deposit in the account of the forest department.

Sanctuary superintendent of Sasan Dr Ram Ratan Nala said, "This facility will make the online process easier for foreign tourists and we expect their numbers to go up significantly."

Now, tourists can book lion safari 30 minutes prior to visit

| Updated: Jan 7, 2018, 06:26 IST RAJKOT: In a major boost to tourists wanting to seen the endangered Asiatic lion in its natural habitat, the Gujarat forest department has relaxed rules for lion safari bookings being done online.

According to the new rules, tourist can now book a lion safari online just 30 minutes prior to his visit. The forest department has also introduced concept of waiting list for benefit of tourists. The visit permit cancellation time has also been reduced to two hours from the present 48 hours. .

Environment ministry seeks improved air connectivity for Gujarat's Gir National Park

The environment ministry stated this in its action taken report to a parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forest.

Representative Image
Representative Image
The issue of poor air connectivity with Gir National Park in Gujarat has been taken up with the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the environment ministry has told a parliamentary panel.
The environment ministry stated this in its action taken report to a parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forest.
The ministry has also said that the Gujarat government has also been asked to take action regarding the recommendation of the committee to remove encroachments from around the Park.
"Encroachments and construction around the national parks and sanctuaries are in purview of the states. In so far as Gir National Park is concerned, state government of Gujarat has been communicated to take action according the recommendation of the committee.
"The ministry has also taken up the matter with Ministry of Civil Aviation regarding poor air connectivity of Gir National Park and requested for improving air connectivity," the Ministry told the panel chaired by Congress leader Anand Sharma.

Bird flu: Pilikula park on alert

  MANGALURU, January 06, 2018 01:10 IST
A new display enclosure built for Asiatic lions at the park.   | Photo Credit: Supplied

Chicken feed for animals has been banned, disinfectant sprayed in enclosures

Pilikula Biological Park here is on alert in view of reports on bird flu in Bengaluru.
Chicken feed to animals in the park has been banned since three days as a precaution, according to H. Jayaprakash Bhandary, director of the park.
Visitors to the zoo now have to dip their feet in a disinfectant solution. In addition, care takers at the zoo are applying disinfectants on their hands before entering the enclosures of birds and animals. Disinfectant solutions are being sprayed in enclosures as well. Bird droppings, faecal matters of animals are analysed frequently, he said.
Mr. Bhandary said now animals are being fed with meat and not chicken.

New enclosure

A new wall-glass display enclosure for a pair of Asiatic lions in the park has been built at an estimated cost of Rs. 27 lakh. Spread over 6,000 sq. ft. it has been sponsored by the Indian Oil Corporation.
Asiatic lions are rare and endangered. The zoo has a 10-year-old male lion and an eight-year-old lioness brought from Gujarat. Visitors to the park can now see them in the new enclosure. The wall-glass structure prevents visitors from teasing the beasts. The pair is housed in animal house during the night.

Rajkot cops on a wild owl chase!

| Jan 5, 2018, 08:10 IST
RAJKOT: Rajkot city police are on the hunt for a missing owl from Pradhyuman Park Zoo.
Zoo authorities informed vigilance and security department of Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) on Thursday after they noticed the owl missing from the cage. It is suspected the owl was stolen by someone, in all likelihood for tantric rituals, on Wednesday night.

Three teams — one each of special operations group (SOG), crime branch and Aji Dam police station — have been formed to separately investigate the matter. The vigilance department of RMC insisted that zoo authorities lodge an FIR as it was a case of negligence.

Police commissioner Anupam Singh Gehlot told TOI that all the three teams will probe the owl's disappearance separately. An offence was registered under the Wildlife Protection Act and the forest department has also joined the probe.

Tiger poaches lion’s share

| Updated: Jan 5, 2018, 08:23 IST
AHMEDABAD: The Centre's determination for Asiatic lion conservation funds is just 2.57% of what it gives for tiger conservation. Ironically, though tigers are found in many states, Gujarat is the last abode of Asiatic lions in the world.
Official sources said that in the year 2016-17 the allocation for funds for project tiger doubled. As against the allocation of Rs 155 crore in 2015-16, the allocation in 2016-17 increased to Rs 342 crore. While tigers have a specific fund allotted in the budget under Project Tiger, the lion is not so lucky, and funds are released only on basis of submitted projects.

Even with BJP at the Centre, in the year 2016-17, while the Union government allocated Rs 15 lakh per tiger for conservation efforts, Asiatic lions merited just Rs 95,000 each.

A senior officer said that even in the state assembly the government has admitted that for two years — from January 2015 to December 2016 — the central government did not give any additional grants for the Gir lion project in Gujarat.

The state government claimed that in this financial year, it had allocated Rs 21.88 crore from its own coffers while in 2015-16 it had allocated Rs 14.29 crore.