English language news articles from year 2007 plus find out everything about Asiatic Lion and Gir Forest. Latest News, Useful Articles, Links, Photos, Video Clips and Gujarati News of Gir Wildlife Sanctuary (Geer / Gir Forest - Home of Critically Endangered Species Asiatic Lion; Gir Lion; Panthera Leo Persica ; Indian Lion (Local Name 'SAVAJ' / 'SINH' / 'VANRAJ') located in South-Western Gujarat, State of INDIA), Big Cats, Wildlife, Conservation and Environment.
Tourism is changing the landscape around the protected area
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The lion’s growing population and dispersal outside Gir has spurred unregulated wildlife tourism
I love lions. I love to watch them,” declared a farmer I was
interviewing in Dalkhaniya village in Gujarat’s Amreli district as part
of my social survey in the agrarian landscape outside the Gir Protected
Area (PA). I found myself beaming at him and concluded that this
reflected a remarkable local acceptance and love for lions.
continued: “…in the forest, that is. But in the farm, I prefer to see
oxen.” After a surprised pause, my colleagues and I burst out laughing.
We understood what he was trying to say — “We love lions but prefer them
to be restricted to the forest.”
My research over 15 years has been all about deciphering the dynamics of the remarkable coexistence of wildlife and
people in this farm-habitation-forest matrix — the fears, the concerns,
the humour that mark people’s perceptions of predators in their midst.
But I am also acutely aware of how delicate this balance in the
coexistence is, and how easily the scales can tip, endangering an entire
Gir and its environs are the last wild refuges of the
endangered Asiatic lion. The remarkable growth in the lion population in
this landscape — from about 300 in 1995 to over 500 in 2015 — points to
the success of conservation management over decades. In 2015-2016,
Gujarat celebrated the Golden Jubilee of conservation management of the
Asiatic lion — it had been 50 years since Gir was declared a protected
area in 1965.
Over the last 25 years or so, a notable trend in
lion distribution has been recorded in the area: the animals, their
numbers up, are venturing far out of the protected area and have come to
live in a staggering range of habitats — hilly tracts, coasts, pastures
While the growing population and the habitat
expansion are great news for lion conservation, they have also brought
lions closer to people outside the PA. This also means there are more
incidents of livestock depredation and of attacks on people by lions.
Reports of lions dying due to unnatural causes — railway and road
accidents, electrocution, drowning in open wells and from the occasional
cases of carcass poisoning — are also causing alarm. And so,
safeguarding lions and people outside the PA has lately become a
challenge for the forest department.
The lion’s dispersal has also resulted in another disturbing phenomenon: a huge increase in unregulated wildlife tourism around
the protected area. Videos of tourists on bikes and cars chasing lions
over several kilometres at night have been widely shared on social
media. The more affluent of these ‘wildlife enthusiasts’ are willing to
pay up to ₹20,000 to see lions. “They are after all safe in their
vehicles. It is very different for people like us who often have to walk
alone in these parts with just a torch in our hand. We can’t feel the
same enthusiasm,” said a resident of Malshika village in Amreli
district. The village residents I speak to often say that this kind of
brazen tourism affects the largely harmonious dynamic between the
villagers and big cats, making the animals more irritable and
aggressive. Temple at the core
increasing number of visitors each year is just a small part of the
problem: the boom in wildlife and religious tourism in the area is
changing the landscape by catalysing urbanisation, altering land-use,
and changing the profile and influence of stakeholders.
the State government in 2017 permitted night-stays at the Kankai temple
located in the core area of the Gir National Park, despite concerns
from wildlife experts. Although the permission comes with regulations,
the visitors who slip in through this new loophole will mostly belong to
the ‘eco-tourism’ category. The consequence would be increased
night-time traffic, noise and disturbance to wildlife by people visiting
the temple. This, despite the fact that the proposal had been opposed
tooth and nail for over 20 years or more.
proposal is the State government’s plan to reduce the eco-sensitive zone
around Gir. An eco-sensitive zone, as per the environment ministry
guidelines, can extend to 10 km around a PA. Here certain development
activities are prohibited. As for Gir, the eco-sensitive zone could be
reduced to less than 1 km in certain areas, opening these parts to
mining and tourism. Both the night-time permits to the Kankai temple and
the delineation of eco-sensitive zones are being challenged through
PILs and are being examined by the judiciary.
There is yet another
recent development that is sure to cause changes in the landscape in
the form of habitat loss, land degradation through roads, resorts,
traffic and pollution: the clearance for the Ambardi interpretation
zone, essentially a safari park where tourists can drive around to see
captive lions in enclosed natural environments. This interpretation zone
is just 15 km from the protected area.
The future of a healthy
lion population calls for a rollback on a lot of decisions taken in
recent times, whether related to delineating eco-sensitive zones,
promoting tourism or yielding to the demands of powerful lobby groups.
We must remember that the agro-pastoral landscape around the sanctuary
is as important as dedicated management, political will, people’s
tolerance and the lion’s resilience in contributing to the success of
Asiatic lion conservation. Preserving this entire matrix will determine
whether there will be another milestone jubilee celebration in the
future. The author is a wildlife biologist who has been involved with research on the Asiatic lion for over 15 years.