An Asiatic lioness died on Tuesday while trying to return to the mainland after venturing into the sea to reach a tiny island some 2.5 km off Amreli coast, Gujarat.
Forest officers were informed on Monday that a lioness was spotted on the tiny island, measuring around one hectare, off the coast of Doliya village in Amreli. Forest guards and rescuers went to the island on boats but could not rescue the stranded lioness. Eventually, her carcass was found on the Doliya coast on Tuesday morning.
“Our staff spotted the lioness on the island but couldn’t rescue it on Monday. The animal was too weak and tranquilising her was not an option as we feared that she can run into the sea after being shot with a tranquiliser dart as the area was too small. We gave her food and water and were waiting for her to return to the shore at low tide. But we found her carcass on Tuesday morning,” Ganga Sharan Singh, deputy conservator of Bhavnagar told The Indian Express.
Forest officers said they were still wondering as to how the lioness, believed to be around four years old, might have reached the islet.
“We believe it could have gone there during low tide and was left stranded. We are still not sure if the carcass recovered this morning is that of the lioness which was spotted on the island,” the DCF further said.
Asiatic lions, which are endangered species, are not known to be great swimmers. Though they have settled in the coastal areas of Rajula and Jafrabad taluka of Amreli and Mahuva of Bhavnagar, there are no known records of them having swam across the sea to reach an island.
“A lioness had reached Nagva beach in Diu many years ago. But there were cubs with her and therefore it was concluded that she couldn’t have swam to Diu, but might have taken the road that connects Diu to Gujarat. Lions have been spotted on coastline but not on islands,” said Bhushan Pandya, a wildlife conservationist who has been studying Gir forest for the last three decades.
Gir forest and other protected areas in Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts are the only natural habitat of endangered Asiatic lions. It is the only place in the world outside Africa where lions are found in the wild. The 2015 lion census had pegged the number of Asiatic lions at 523.
Pandya, who is also a member of Gujarat state wildlife board, further said that while lions can swim, the lioness could have died after experiencing hypothermia or due to some injury while trying to swim back to shore.
The DCF said that they were waiting for the post-mortem report of the animal.