August 27, 2021 1:23:13 am
THE FIVE Asiatic lions which were caged by forest department from near Pipavav port on the sea coast of Amreli on August 18 have been released in western part of Gir forest, away from their territory near a railway line and highway connecting the port. Forest officers termed this exercise a “management issue” saying the big cats were facing threats of accidents near the port.
The forest department had caged three lionesses and two sub-adult lionesses from Rajula Vidi near the busy Pipavav port on August 18. Forest officers had initially maintained that the carnivores were captured for screening them for diseases. After being captured, the five lionesses were kept in Jasadhar rescue centre in Gir (east) wildlife division. However, BJP MP from Amreli, Naran Kachchhadiya had on Wednesday told media that the rescued lions were released.
While phone calls by The Indian Express to Forest and Environment Minister Ganpavt Vasava went unanswered, forest officers on Thursday confirmed that the lions have indeed been released but in different territory. “They were released in the Gir sanctuary part which is part of Gir (west) but adjoining the boundary of Gir (east) and we are monitoring them since,” Dushyant Vasavada, Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) of Junagadh wildlife circle, told The Indian Express on Thursday.
The CCF on Thursday said that during the screening, the five lionesses were found to be healthy, they have not been released in their home territory for fears of accident. He said that one of the lionesses has been tagged with a radio-collar whose signals indicated that the pride was crossing the railway line and the highway connecting the port frequently. “One male lion was killed after being run over by a train in this area in February this year. In March, there was one more death in Pipava port area. On Saturday, one more lion was run over by a train… So, this is a management issue and so, we shifted them to a safer place,” Vasavada said.
Pipavav is a busy port handling containerised cargo. It is served by a four-lane highway as well as a private board gauge railway line.
Lions are territorial animals which mark their territories and protect them fiercely from other lions as well as from other major carnivores. However, the CCF said that post the Tauktae cyclone in June, more space has become available for lions inside Gir forest. “The cyclone has disturbed lots of trees and so there are more open areas in western Gir. After due consideration, we have released them on the border of the east and the western Gir where there is space for them,” said Vasavada.
A population estimation exercise undertaken by the state forest department last year had pegged the population of lions at 674. As their population is increasing, lion sightings near human habitations have increased in recent decades. To prevent accidents on the railway track, the forest department has fenced more than 10-km long stretch of the track from Pipava port to Rajula. However, the male lion which had been run over by a goods train in Uchaiya village near the port had suddenly appeared on the track after jumping over the fence, forest officers say.
When asked if more lions will be relocated from near the port, the CCF said, “For now, this is a one-off exercise. But we don’t want to sacrifice more lions in this type of accidents.”
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