THREE lions were mowed down by a good trains in Gir forest in Gujarat late on Monday night. The incident took place at Borala village that falls under Gir (East) forest division in Amreli district.
According to Chief Conservator of Forests (Junagadh wildlife circle) Dushyant Vasavada, the animals were sub-adult, in the age-group of 1.5 to 2 years. “Six lions were moving on the tracks when they were hit by a goods train plying between Botad and Pipavav last midnight. Three lions died on the spot,” Vasavada said, adding that an inquiry has been ordered into the incident.
Why fencing of tracks is not an easy solution
Availability of water and preys along Shetrunji river and seacoast have helped lions thrive in Amreli district beyond the protected Gir forests. This was evident in 2015 lion census that showed 61% jump in the population of big cats. Since the time lions started crossing Gir forest border in search of new territory around 15 years ago, the Surendranagar-Pipavav rail line has been a hurdle for them. Following a spate of lion deaths in 2014-15, a 10-km stretch of the track was fenced. On the other hand, Pipavav is a very important port on the west coast, and the railway line is a key access route to it. Fencing the track is costly and runs the risk of cutting off lion corridors. It remains to be seen how the the issue is resolved.
“An inquiry is being conducted about the train speed and possible negligence of wildlife trackers and forest staff. Stringent action will be taken against whosoever is found guilty,” Vasavada added.
Roopa Srinivasan, Divisional Railway Manager of Bhavnagar, said that the train driver did try to save the big cats but remained unsuccessful. “The pilot of the train applied emergency brakes after noticing lions on the tracks. But the train ran over three lions before it came to a halt,” she said.
Incidentally, around half-a-dozen Asiatic lions had died after being hit by a moving train in the Rajula and Savarkundla ranges in 2014 and 2015. This led the Forest Department to erect chain-linked fencing on either side of the rail tracks over a stretch of around 10-km from the Pipavav port to Rajula town. However, no such fencing was erected at Borala where the latest incident took place.
Boarala village is located adjacent to Chandgadh and Liliya where lions have been settled in reserve forest. The railway track on which the accident took place connects Pipava port to Surendranagar junction. The busy broad-gauge railway track is owned by Pipavav Railway Corporation Limited (PRCL), a joint-venture between Indian Railways and Gujarat Pipavav Port Limited, a private firm that owns and operate the Pipava port. The railway line has the capacity to handle 21 trains every day.
Notably, lion deaths after being hit by trains are rare on the Junagadh-Talala section that passes through Gir National Park and Sanctuary in Gir (West) forest division.
Sources said that forest staff are tracking the remaining three members of the pride that managed to escape in order to ensure that they do not come near the tracks in search of the missing three lions.
The incident comes around two months after 23 Asiatic lions died in a small pocket of Gir (East) forest in September. Laboratory tests confirmed that at least 17 of the lions had died after contracting highly contagious canine distemper virus and other bacterial infections. Thirty-six lions that had been subsequently rescued as a precautionary measure were also later found to have contacted the virus and were given CDV vaccine. They are still under observation at rescue centres in Babarkot and Devaliya.