Three Asiatic lions were mowed down by a goods train in Borala village falling under the jurisdiction of Gir (east) forest division in Amreli district in the early hours of Tuesday. The incident comes two months after 23 Asiatic lions died in a small pocket of the forest following an outbreak of dread canine distemper virus (CDV).
Carcasses of the three big cats were found on the railway tracks in Borala village early on Tuesday morning. Chief conservator of forests of Junagadh wildlife circle, Dushyant Vasavada, said the animals were sub-adults in the age group of 1.5-2-year-olds.
“The accident took place in revenue area near Borala village of Savarkundla range of Gir (east) forest division. A goods train was going from Botad to Pipavav around 12.45 am. A pride of six lions was also moving along the track. Three lions died after the train ran over them,” Vasavada said.
Gir (east) forest division falls under Junagadh wildlife circle. Boarala is a village located in Savarkundla taluka of Amreli district. It is adjacent to Chandgadh and Liliya where Asiatic lions have settled in reserve forest and thickets in private revenue land. The railway track on which the accident took place connects Pipava port on sea coat in Rajula taluka of Amreli district 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 which owns and operate the Pipava port. The Pipavav port is one the of biggest ports of Gujarat in terms of handling containerised cargo. The railway line has the capacity to handle 21 trains every day.
The incident comes after deaths of 23 Asiatic lions in Sarasiya Vidi in Dalkhaniya range of Gir (east) forest division in Dhari taluka of Amreli district in September. Laboratory tests had confirmed that at least 17 of the lions died after contracting highly contagious CDV and other bacterial infections. The 36 lions which were subsequently rescued as a precautionary measure were also later found to have contracted the virus and were given CDV vaccine. They are still under observation at rescue centres in Babarkot in Amreli social forestry division, Jasadhar in Gir (east) forest division, Janwala in Gir (west) forest division and a few in Devaliya safari park.
Between 2014 and 2015, around six Asiatic lions died after being hit by moving goods train in Rajula range of Amreli social forestry division and Savarkundla range. After the fatalities, the forest department had erected chain-linked fencing on either side of the track over a stretch of around 10-km from near the Pipavav port onward to Rajula town. However, fencing is not there in Borala where the latest incident took place.
Asiatic lions are an endangered species and their only wild population in the world is surviving in Gir forest and other protected areas spread across Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts in Saurashtra region of Gujarat state. Their population was estimated to be 523 during the lion census conducted in 2015. Of this, 174 was recorded in Amreli district alone. The carnivores have settled in Liliya and Krakach area of Amreli district for the last 15 years as their population grew in protected forest areas. Being territorial animals, the big cats looked for abodes outside.
The Junagadh CCF said he had ordered an enquiry into the Tuesday’s incident and that strict action will be taken against those found negligent. “An enquiry 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,” said Vasavada.
Sources said that forest staff had been tacking the rest three members of the lion pride to ensure that they do not come near the track in search of the missing three sub-adults.
Incidentally, another railway line—of Junagadh-Talala section— passes through Gir National Park and Sanctuary in Gir (west) forest division. But lion deaths on this railway lines are quite rare.