As many as 222 lions died, most of them due to natural causes, in the Gir forest region in Gujarat in the last two years, the Legislative Assembly was told Tuesday. Among them, only 23 lions died because of “unnatural” causes such as getting hit by trains or falling into wells between June 2017 and May 2019. In a written reply a query by Congress MLA Shailesh Parmar, Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava stated that 82 lions, including 30 cubs, have died between June 2017 and May 2018 while the number of deaths stood at 140, including 60 cubs, for the June 2018–May 2019 period.
“While 199 deaths occurred because of natural causes, such as infection and ailments, 23 deaths have been attributed to unnatural causes,” Vasava stated. Though the state government did not mention the last year’s viral outbreak as one of the main reasons for high number of deaths between 2018-19, Vasava had told the Assembly in Februarythat as many as 34 lions had died last year due to diseases including Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), Babesia, Streptococcal bacteria and Gram-negative bacilli infections. Gir Forest National Park is a wildlife sanctuary established to protect Asiatic lions. As per the last census carried out in 2015, Gir forest had 523 big cats. The state government had recently said that the number of lions has gone up to 600.
In his reply, Vasava listed various preventive measures, such as building parapets around wells situated near the forest, fencing railway tracks, construction of speed-breakers on roads passing through the sanctuaries, and continuous patrolling. The minister said Forest department recently purchased 75 radio collars for Asiatic lions to monitor their movements. A hi-tech monitoring centre was also set up at Sasan-Gir, he said, adding that a dedicated ambulance service was launched recently to treat the injured or ill big cats.
Responding to another query raised by Congress MLA Pratap Dudhat about illegal lion shows held in Gir, Vasava said as many as 74 persons have been arrested in the last two years for organising such shows in the forest area. In his speech on budgetary demands for Forest department, Vasava said the state government has allocated Rs 123 crore this year for conservation of lions. He said the funds will be spent on building a dedicated hospital and a research lab for big cats and for setting up a CCTV network and a GPS-based surveillance system.
In order to reduce concentration of tourists in Sasan-Gir, the headquarter of Gir National Park, the state government is planning three safari parks in Narmada, Surat and Dang districts.