Updated: December 14, 2021 8:24:11 pm
A lioness and two sub-adult cubs have been camping near Gondal town in Rajkot district, more than 60 kilometres away from Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary (GWLS)–their nearest known home of Gir forest, for the past one week without creating any major disturbance in the normal life of the villagers.
This is the third consecutive winter that the big cats have visited Gondal and experts say this is part of “population spilling over” from Gir forest and other protected areas spread across Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts, and the lions recapturing their territory.
Officers of Morbi territorial forest division said that the three carnivores have been roaming in various villages of Gondal taluka since December 6. “They are seeking refuge in private vidis (grasslands) and have preyed on a cow, one abandoned bullock and a wild boar so far. Our staff is monitoring their movement and
so far no untoward incident has been reported,” said Chirag Amin, incharge deputy conservator of forests (DCF) of Morbi division.
Amin said that the three carnivores are believed to have come from GWLS near Junagadh, more than 60 km south of the area in which they are roaming presently. He said that this small pride had entered Rajkot district through Jetalsar village in Jetpur taluka before moving further north to Gondal.
From Gondal, GWLS is the nearest known habitat of Gir lions. Last year also, three male lions, believed to be from Dhari in Gir (east) wildlife division in Amreli district had entered Rajkot district via Jasdan taluka in November before reaching the outskirts of Rajkot city and spending around a month between Rajkot and Gondal. Eventually, they were caged in January this year and were released in their territory in Gir.
Two sub-adult male lions that entered Rajkot in 2019 via Jasdan and had moved further north up to Chotila taluka in Surendranagar district had also crossed Gondal while on their way back to GWLS.
Rajkot district has been recording lion movement on and off since 2001. But in recent years, the big cats have been visiting the district almost every winter.
Retired IFS officer HS Singh, who is a member of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) and has studied Gir lions extensively, said lions visiting farther parts of Rajkot is part of the phenomenon of dispersal of lions from Gir forest and other protected areas, their last habitat in the world. “I have been observing it for 15 years. Earlier when population was less, only a few were surviving in Girnar…. But now, population is spilling everywhere. Now, Girnar population is more than 30 or 50. So, they move from Ginar to Gondal grasslands and villages in search of food,” Singh said adding the lion population ranging freely in Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts of Gujarat’s Saurashtra region is around 700 and about 55 per cent of those lions have settled out of protected forests.
Lions are territorial animals. Male lions mark their territory and defend it from intrusion of other male lions while mating with females living inside that territory until more powerful lions take over that territory. Also, young male cubs are pushed out of a pride as they approach adulthood. Such male lions often explore new territories.
Singh said that lions visit Rajkot during winters due to climate. “During summer, it is too hot so they prefer shed, riverine patches where temperature is four-five degrees down compared to the surrounding area. So, they move back to Gir… they prefer open areas in winter because they need sunlight,” he said.
Bhushan Pandya, a Rajkot-based conservationist who has recorded flora and fauna of Gir extensively through photography, said, “Availability of food can also be a reason for lions to move to revenue areas. They can find feral cattle and blue bulls (nilgai) rather easily in such areas,” said Pandya.
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