Two journalists of a TV news channel and four others were arrested after they were allegedly caught chasing and video-graphing Asiatic lions, inside Gir forest near Visavadar in Junagadh district, forest officials said on Sunday.
An official release from the state Forest Department said that six persons were caught chasing Asiatic lions in Dhon beat of Visavadar range of Gir (west) forest division, on Friday evening. They were identified as Hiren Dhakan and Dharmendra Khachar, reporter and cameraperson respectively for a private television news channel in the district; Balakdas Devmorari, a postman and a resident of Prempara village of Visavdar taluka; Natwar Bhuva, a farmer of Prempara village; Nitin Raiyani, a farmer of the nearby Jambudi village and Dahya Dhanoya, a cattle herder from Prempara.
“They were chasing lions and harassing the animals in mating. Our staff, who were patrolling the area, caught them red-handed and arrested them after booking them under various sections of the Wildlife (Protection) Act (1972),” Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF), Junagadh Wildlife Circle, stated in the release.
Dheeraj Mittal, Deputy Conservator of Forests of Gir (west) said that two of the six accused were granted bail by a local court. “The remaining four complained to the judicial magistrate of ill-treatment while they were in custody of the Forest Department. Therefore, the court has ordered the four to be re-examined medically at the Junagadh Civil Hospital,” the DCF said. The four have also been granted bail. Mittal added that once the medical examination of the four accused is completed at the Junagadh Civil Hospital, they would be produced before magistrate again.
Gir forest and other protected areas spread across Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts are the last natural abode of Asiatic lions in the world. The Gir National Park and Sanctuary, which comprises the majority of Gir forest, remains closed for tourists from mid-June to mid-October, in order to allow the wildlife and the flora to recover. The period is also the mating season of the Asiatic lions. Entering the Gir-protected area without due permission is an offence.
Shivraj Gadhvi, Range Forest Officer of Visavdar, said that Dhakan was a native of Visavadar, but had shifted to Junagadh city five months ago. “While we appreciate that one of the accused is a journalist and the other accused are locals with whom the journalist has a good rapport, entering the sanctuary without permission cannot be tolerated,” the DCF further said. Incidentally, many videos of people driving in vehicles chasing Asiatic lions have gone viral on social media in recent times, and the Forest Department has taken action against the offenders.
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