GANAPATHI BHAT, AKOLA
IT is great to know that the Asiatic lion population in the Gir sanctuary of Gujarat, and the adjoining forests, spread over a vast area, has risen to 674 from 523 in 2015. The 30 per cent rise in the big cat number over five years is a much-needed shot in the arm for lion conservation efforts in the area in view of the fact that an April report indicated at least 19 big cats had succumbed to canine distemper virus, tick infestation and old age. Way back in 2015, Gir had adopted modern methods to count lions because of its accuracy. Global positioning system, geo-reference and videography were some apart from the time-tested ‘direct sighting’. The preservation of lion habitat and corridors obviously has helped the majestic animals flourish. It is known that intersection of roads and tracks with the lion habitats can prove detrimental to the big cat. But a firm control on sand mining activities in the Gir Sanctuary has gone a long way. The Western Railways had limited the speed of goods trains on tracks close to the sanctuary in many districts. Nearly 80 kilometres of railway tracks passing through the Amreli region has been fenced with barbed wires; more needs to be done. The Gujarat government has increased the livestock availability for lions as prey base. CDV vaccines have saved the lives of big cats. Man-lion conflict has been reduced to a great extent but is not enough. More underpasses and flyovers are required. Villagers, whose cattle are ambushed by the big cats, may not bother much about enhanced lion count. Territorial conflict should be minimised. Translocation, or reintroduction, of Gir lions to Kuna Palpur in Madhya Pradesh, if at all, as ordered by the Supreme Court in 2013, has to be done with care and caution.