As population of Gir lions grows, humans & cattle become targets

The Gujarat Forest Department’s 2020-21 report states that in man-animal conflict, 12 people lost their lives and 70 were injured, whereas 3,927 cattle were killed or injured in the Junagadh wildlife circle, which includes the Gir lion sanctuary.

With the increasing population of Asiatic lions in Gir National Sanctuary and its surrounding areas, lions are visible in revenue areas while attacks on humans and domestic cattle have increased.

The Gir Sanctuary is spread over 1412 square kilometres, of which 258 square kms is the core national park. In 1913 there were 20 lions, the numbers have grown to 750 in 2022. Now the lions are seen in Barda, Mitiyala and Pania sanctuary, in revenue areas like the coastal belt of Amreli and Bhavnagar, and as far as Chotila in Surendranagar district.

Lions move out of the sanctuary in search of food, because in the 1990s the government decided to move out pastoralists and Maldhari living in the sanctuary areas for decades because of which the lions lost domestic prey like buffaloes, cows and became totally dependent on wild prey, said environmentalist Mahesh Pandya.

With the increasing population of Asiatic lions and lions roaming in the revenue areas and attacking humans and domestic animals, Rajya Sabha member Parimal Nathwani inquired about the wild prey population in Gir Sanctuary. Union Environment and Forest Minister Ashwini Kumar replied in March 2022 that density of wild prey base in 11,203 per 100 square kms, whereas the lions density is 13.38 per square km.

According to the forest department’s statistics wild prey were 1,49,365 in 2018 while in 2019 they were 1,55,659. They included spotted deer, sambar, blue-bull, gazelle, four horned antelope, Hanuman Langur, wild pig, black buck and Indian peafowl in the Gir Sanctuary.

But the moot point is whether the population of wild prey is enough and what should be done to see that lions don’t need to enter revenue areas for food. Former Chief Wildlife Warden D M Naik moved a public interest litigation before the Gujarat High Court in which he submitted that with the increasing number of lions in Gir, a long term wildlife policy is required for better conservation. He also submitted that there is a feeling among the villagers to take back the sanctuary areas, so they co-exist with the lions, as they co-existed till the early 1990s.

The rise in man-animal conflict can be attributed to two reasons — human interference has increased a lot in the buffer and eco-sensitive zones and wild animals looking for solitude and food are forced to look for alternative places. The second is people in the revenue areas have little knowledge of co-existence with lions like the tribes who lived in Gir for centuries, observed Tushar Pancholi, an activist.

Pancholi has studied co-existence for years. Till the mid 1990s, the original tribes were okay living with the lions, both used to respect each others presence. Even if their domestic cattle were attacked the tribals never confronted the lions. Now tourism has increased in the forests. In 2020-21, 1,09,400 people visited the Gir National Park and 2315 visited the Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary. Human activities have increased in the buffer and eco-sensitive zones with more resorts. This is disturbing the peace of the wildlife and so they are moving out and attacking humans.

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