Every summer, the Forest Department of Gujarat conducts a Herbivore Census in Gir forest. This year’s exercise, which began Monday, is of particular significance because it is the last Herbivore Census ahead of next year’s Lion Census, which is a once-in-five-years exercise.
The Herbivore Census covers ungulates such as spotted deer, blue bulls (nilgais), sambars, Indian gazelles (chinkaras), four-horned antelopes (choshinga) and wild boars, as well as Indian langurs and peafowl.
Why it matters
Wild ungulates and langurs are the main prey of Asiatic lions, the endangered species whose only wild population in the world is surviving in the 22,000 sq km Greater Gir area. A count provides a sense of the available of the prey base for lions as well as other predators like leopards, hyenas and wolves. A strong prey base can reduce depredation of livestock by lions and can reduce man-animal conflict. In 2013-14, the last Herbivore Census before the previous Lion Census, the total count of all herbivores was 1.32 lakh, higher than the about 1.25 lakh counted in 2012-13.
Why it’s done in summer
During summer, foliage is reduced to a minimum in dry and deciduous tropical forests, which affords the best visibility for conducting a census. Also, wild animals concentrate around water points, which in Gir include 450 artificial ones filled by the Forest Department. The forest is divided into 19 routes and forest divisions for the census, with teams transacting routes thrice — morning, afternoon and evening — and depending on direct sighting.