A Central Government team of wildlife experts has flown in to the last abode of endangered Asiatic Lions – Gir Forest - situated in western Gujarat to probe the deaths of 11 big cats in a span of just eight days.
Though the state forest department is claiming the death as natural, wildlife lovers and environmentalists are expressing doubts over the death of lions. According to top forest officials in the state, the lions died due to infighting and territorial war.
“The Central team belonging to the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment has already initiated probe. They are examining autopsy reports of the dead animals and also questioning forest beat guards as well as people residing near Dalkhania and Jashadhar ranges of Gir forest where the lions died,” said sources close to the development.
According to sources in the state forest department, in fact the state government took the incidences of lions’ death extremely seriously and decided to take assistance of central government experts to curb any such causality of Asiatic lions in future. The report of central team would decide to further course of investigation, said the sources adding that the report of expert would make it clear the cause of death was due to poison, some diseases or because of infighting as claimed by the state forest officials.
It is worth mentioning that Gujarat is steadfastly dragging its feet even after a Supreme Court order to hand over a few lions to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh for an alternative home for this epidemic prone species.
Due to heavy inbreeding, the lions Gir forest and surrounding areas are very susceptible to infection at one end and epidemic at the other. So many deaths in such a short span of time rang alarm bells and needed to be thoroughly probed, opined a retired IFS official from Gujarat forest department. The state forest department carries out a lion census every five years. The 2005 survey counted 359 lions while the number grew to 411 in 2010.The latest census in 2015 found 523 lions, 109 of which were male, 201 female, 140 cubs and 73 sub-adults.