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Gujarat's "fully protected" Gir National Park has just 22 Asiatic lions: A detail state Chief Minister refused to divulge

By Rajiv Shah
Well-informed sources in Gujarat government have told Counterview that the latest lion census enumerators could find just 22 lions in Gir National Park, the no-man’s “fully protected” territory within the Gir forest area to “preserve” the rare species. Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel, while making an announcement of 523 lions in Gujarat, up from 411 in 2010, refused to give any breakup of the number of lions found in the National Park.
When contacted, former Gujarat’s chief wildlife warden GA Patel confirmed the existence of so few lions in the Gujarat National Park, saying, this is a matter of “serious concern” for India’s conservationists. “I have repeatedly drawn the attention of the state forest officials about the need to something urgently to stop dwindling of the number of lions in the Gir National Park”, he said, adding, “The result is now there for all to see.”
According to Patel, “The forests have gone very thick in the Gir National Park, which is of 258 sq km area out of a total of 1,412 sq km of the Gir forests. The forests are so thick here that even grass doesn’t grow here, as a result of which the herbivorous, which are the main prey of the lions, do not breed.” In his estimate, the territory of 258 sq km of the “fully protected” Gir National Park should ideally have between 60 and 70 lions.
Rest of the 1,153 sq km area is Gir sanctuary, which is not a no-man’s land. Here, mainly the local cattle breeders, maldharis, are still allowed to live in several villages, called neses. There have been frantic efforts in the recent past to unsettle the maldharis, who breed buffaloes, from the forests in the name of further “protect” the Gir forests for the lions.
The lion census, whose results were announced on Sunday, found that there was a very little rise in the number of Gir lions in the forest area (Sanctuary plus National Park) – from 297 in 2010 to 302 in 2015. The census found that 221 lions of a total of 523 lived outside the Gir forest, in a 22,000 sq km wide span – and of these, in the coastal areas of southern Saurashtra alone accounted for 167 lions as against 71 in 2010.
Patel, who is former member, National Wildlife Board, and has been a strong advocate of not allowing Asiatic lions to be shifted to Madhya Pradesh, further said, “A management plan on a pilot basis has been prepared for creating special territories of 50 hectares each in the Gir National Park and the Gir Sanctuary, where thickness of the forests would be reduced to allow grass to grow, attracting herbivorous, so that lions are attracted here.”
Submitted to the Supreme Court, Patel admitted the plan cannot be implemented “so easily” as the apex court wants the wood removed from the 50 hectare area each of the Gir National Park and the Sanctuary should not be put to commercial use, and handed over to the local people. “One has only to see how African lions survive: There are huge open spaces between forests, which is what the plan seeks to implement”, Patel adds.

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