Two lions killed a lion tracker and injured two others, including a forester, inside Gir Interpretation Zone in Devaliya in Junagadh district on Thursday. As the lions became aggressive, Devaliya Safari Park had to be closed to tourists. Later in the evening, the two lions were caught and kept in captivity.
“This is an extremely rare event. We are trying to ascertain in what circumstances the lions attacked the trackers,” Dushyant Vasavada, Chief Conservator of Forests (Junagadh Wildlife Circle), told The Indian Express.
Forest officers said the incident took place around 11 am when two lions suddenly attacked 33-year-old Rajnish Keshwala while he was keeping a watch on the movement of the animals. Sources said that since the two most experienced lion trackers were on leave, Keshwala was standing by for them.
“Another labourer, identified as Dinesh Kacha, tried to rescue Keshwala, but the lions attacked him also. However, Kacha managed to escape and informed other staff members. After being alerted, the staff rushed to the spot and launched a search for Keshwala. But they could recover only his body. During the recovery of Keshwala’s body, the lions attacked one of the foresters, Meraman Bharda,” Vasavada said, adding that both Kacha and Bharda have been admitted to a Junagadh city hospital.
Trackers keep a track of movements of lions in Gir forest and report to forest officers in case they find the behaviour of animals unusual. Mostly they do their job by trekking their allotted terrain. Sources said that Keshwala and Kacha were driving in a jeep and trying to know the location of lions so that tourists buses could be guided to that part of the park when the incident took place. “But as soon as Keshwala got down from the jeep, he was attacked by a pair of male lions known as Gaurav and Gautam. One the lions dragged the tracker into bushes,” they said.
After the incident, the forest department closed the safari park to tourists. Later in the evening, the CCF said that the two lions were caught and put in a cage. “It has been decided that the two lions will not be released in the safari park again. As a precautionary measure, we had closed down the safari park immediately. With the two lions now caged, we have also decided to open the safari park to tourists from Friday onward,” said Vasavada.
Meanwhile, Akshay Kumar Saxena, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden of Gujarat, ordered the Junagadh CCF to conduct an inquiry into the incident.
Devaliya safari park is spread over 412 hectare within Gir forest. The park is part of Gir (West) division forest and a chain-linked fencing separates it from the rest of the forest of Gir National Park and Sanctuary. The safari park is around 13 km from Sasan. The safari park is home to a pride of 10 lions, leopards and herbivores like nilgais, spotted deer, sambar etc. Buses take tourists inside the safari park. From this year, the forest department has introduced fenced gypsies also for tourists to go on safari inside the safari park.