The Gir Forest in Gujarat is known as the last abode of Asiatic Lions. These lions once were widely distributed in Asia and later found their way into India. Since then Gir has been their home. Towards the end of the 19th century, the lions were in danger of extinction as human population increased near the forest resulting in loss of habitat and poaching. There have been many conservation programmes solely dedicated for the revival of this species. According to the ENVIS Centre’s 14th Lion Population Estimation 2015, the total number of lions were 523, including 109 adult lions and 201 adult lionesses along with 213 sub adults and cubs. The number of endangered Asiatic Lion has increased by 27 per cent as compared to a previous census conducted five years ago. With such rapid increase in the numbers of Asiatic Lions, experts further assert that their population has almost reached saturation point in the core area of the Gir. The increase in population has been mostly observed around areas which are outside of the protected zone, as a result, exposing the lions to human settlements which exacerbated the man-animal conflict.
Despite the success, the increase in population has subsequently exposed the species to vulnerabilities as there has been a spate of sudden deaths of Asiatic Lions in the recent years. While in 2013 and 2014 the deaths were between 70 and 80, the toll rose to 91 in 2015. The animals have been known to succumb to fights amongst them, illness, injuries and more but, the most alarming increase in death rates have been from catastrophic events such as floods and road/rail accidents. Relocating the lions to nearby areas is therefore one of the safest solutions to prevent such accidents.
However, the Gujarat government has been quick to respond and have put in measures to ensure safety and restoration of this species. Under the centrally sponsored scheme ‘Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats’, financial and technical assistance is provided to Gujarat to improve animal habitat and provide better protection to wildlife, including lions.
It was also observed that one of the causes of deaths was by falling in open wells in the revenue area. To combat this, the State implemented a scheme to construct parapet walls around open wells. Under the scheme, 50 per cent assistance is provided to the farmers for constructing the parapet. Also, construction of chain linked wire fencing on the accident prone area, safety over and under passes on railway tracks along with putting up sign boards, speed breakers, where the interaction is expected, is initiated.
The modernisation of hospital facilities, established for treatment of sick and injured lions, have helped in implementing effective and efficient rescue operations for the injured animals. Capacity building such as awareness among public is being created through public meetings, nature education camp, wildlife week celebration and eco club activities.
—Inputs from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, May 2016.