The fifteenth lion census, which was due to be conducted this May, has been postponed indefinitely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the monthly exercise of observing and counting the lion numbers in Gir forest and other areas would continue, Gujarat Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava said on Wednesday.
“Due to the lockdown following the outbreak of novel coronavirus, we won’t be able to conduct lion census in the manner we have done for the past several years. However, the forest department shall keep on observing the animals and counting their numbers on full moons. They will do it this full moon (June 5),” Vasava told The Indian Express on Wednesday.
With the southwest monsoon approaching Gujarat and parts of the state already witnessing rain under the influence of cyclone Nisarg, the Forest Minister remained non-committal when asked about when the 15th lion census would be conducted.
“Generally, we conduct the census every five years but it won’t happen this year. We take the help of NGOs, wildlife enthusiasts and groups working for lion conservation. But it is not advisable to take these people inside the forest this year, as the case of a tigress contracting coronavirus from a human in a zoo (of New York) was reported. We had made preparations for the census, but things went haywire due to the pandemic. The next census will be contingent on the pandemic situation. For the time being, routine observations would continue,” said Vasava.
Lion population estimation exercises are undertaken during summer, when foliage in the Gir forest is minimal and animals remain centered around water holes. Usually, such exercises are conducted on full moons, when visibility remains high even at night. The main head counting generally begins in the afternoon, goes through the full moon night and culminates the next afternoon. Preparations for the 15th lion population estimation exercise were in full swing when the nationwide lockdown was enforced in the last week of March. The lockdown norms were relaxed only on May 17, around two weeks past the month’s full moon.
Chief Conservator of Forests of Junagadh Wildlife Circle, Dushyant Vasavada said that forest staff will undertake field observations of the big cats on Friday, the full moon, as per routine schedule. “Our staff undertake the monthly exercise of observing lions and counting their numbers and also files their reports of observations,” he said.
The CCF added that 800 field staffers posted at lion landscapes, spread across Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavanagar districts of Saurashtra region, have been screened for Covid-19. “We are taking precautions after the New York zoo incident and have tested around 800 of our field staff. All results have returned negative,” said Vasavada.
Gir forest and other protected areas are the only place in the world where Asiatic lions are found in the wild. The population of these big cats was estimated to be 523 in 2015. However, due to the species surviving in only one sub-population, the International Union on Conservation of Nature has categorised Asiatic lions as an endangered species.
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