Amid lots of hue and cry over the deaths of 11 lions in the Gir Forest — the last abode of Asiatic Lions situated in western Gujarat, the State forest department claimed that the deaths of big cats were natural and not a single death occurred due to viral infection or other disease.
Many eye-brows have been raised following deaths of lions in Dalkhania and Jashadhar ranges situated in eastern part of Gir Forest. During 12th to 19th September as many as 11 lions died due to infighting and territorial war, confirms GK Sinha, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) and Head of Forest Force in Gujarat.
Reasons including aging, disease, injury, weakness and infighting for capturing territory are considered as natural in the case of lion’s death. Hence the State forest department is considering these deaths of Asiatic Lions as natural. Despite the fact, 11 deaths within a span of eight days would be alarming for the state forest department considering that International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the Asiatic Lions (Panthera leo persica) as endangered due to its small numbers and area of occupancy.
“Basically lion is a territorial animal and stay within its pride. As a result of it whenever the leader of a pride becomes weak, mostly due to aging, strong lions from neighbouring prides try to take his place and attack on the weak lion and his progenies. In such attacks, stronger lion not only kills the weaker one but his cubs also,” said the PCCF.
Of the 11 lions died due to territorial war, there were six cubs, two lionesses and three matured lions. As on Friday autopsy reports of eight lions have come and prima facie the experts are of the opinion that all eight big cats died of infighting. Post Mortem reports of remaining three Asiatic Lions are awaited, but mostly the cause of the death likely to be the same.
With a view to curb more deaths of lions due to infighting, the State forest department has shifted five mature lions from Dalkhania and Jashadhar ranges to other places in Gir forest. According to Sinha, deaths of lions due to territorial war were considered as natural phenomena and such incidences are occurring time to time. However, such high death toll within a short span due to infighting was alarming, he adds.
Generally, in one lion’s territory up to three lionesses reside and after mating season each lioness would give birth up to four cubs. Gestation period of lioness is around 110 days and in normal circumstances lioness become pregnant after an interval of 20 to 24 months. Of the total newly born lion cubs, only 25 to 30 per cent reach to maturity, while 70 to 75 per cent die due to some or other natural and unnatural reasons.
As per the last census of Asiatic Lions in the eight districts of Saurashtra region, 523 big cats were reported that including 109 mature male, 201 female, 73 sub-adults and 14o cubs (below one year). On and average every year 210 lion cubs born in Gujarat and of these nearly 140 die by the time they reach up to the age of three years. Hardly 70 of them are surviving and reach to maturity. During the year 2017-18 as many as 69 lions died in Gujarat. Of these 51 died due to natural reasons and 18 due to unnatural reasons including accidents, electrocution and other causes.