THE FIVE men who were formally arrested on Wednesday evening for allegedly chasing a lion in a car in Visavadar forest range of Gir (west) division were remanded in the custody of forest department for a day by a local court in Junagadh district on Thursday.
The forest officers had sought the custody of Uttpal Pandya (33), Parthiv Trivedi (38), Devang Andharia (46), Brijesh Joshi (31), all Bhavnagar residents, and Leela Ranaviya (20), a farmer of nearby Badak village, for further interrogation. “We suspect involvement of a few others as well,” Pradeep Singh, Deputy Conservator of Forests of Gir (west) said.
The five were detained on Wednesday afternoon and formally arrested in the evening. “The Bhavnagar men had met Ranaviya after they had come to Kankai in Visavadar taluka around two months ago. Seeing their interest in lions, Ranaviya had promised them to show them the big cats if he spotted the animals. On June 17, a bullock died in Ranaviya’s village and he spotted some lions eating the carcass late in the night. He informed the quartet but by the time, they arrived, the lions had left the spot. Eventually, Ranaviya suggested them to go towards Kankai Kunj near the border of Gir National Park and Sanctuary. When they went there, they found two male lions walking on a road amidst hedges and started chasing the animal,” Raju Vansh, range forest officer said.
The forest officers added that they chased the sub-adult lion for about 500 metres before the carnivore disappeared amidst bushes. “They were driving at a speed of around 40 km per hour,” the RFO said.
On Thursday, the forest officers took the accused to Badak village for reconstruction of the entire incident. Gir forest and other protected areas spread acrosss Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts are the only natural habitat of Asiatic lions in the world. The 2015 lion census had put their population to 523. Hunting a lion can attract seven years imprisonment under The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.