Nearly a week after the Gujarat High Court sought “specific information” on the steps taken to prevent lion deaths, the state government on Tuesday announced a range of decisions for the conservation of Asiatic Lion in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary.
Stating that in the last two years, at least 38 cases of illegal activities, like conducting lion shows and harassing the felines by chasing them by vehicles in and around the Gir sanctuary have come to light, the government has decided to employ police department like “informers” to curb such incidents.
“The government is sensitive and committed to the conservation of lions in the state. And for that a committee headed by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has taken a number of decisions… Like police department, we have decided to employ informers to curb such incidents. It has also been decided to impose strict criminal sections of hunting with maximum punishment of seven years against such miscreants who harass lions,” Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava told mediapersons at a press conference here, adding that harassment of lions by such illegal activities was one of the important issues addressed by the committee.
Vasava said that the Forest Department, in collaboration with the Tourism Department, has also decided to increase the number of lion safaris in the protected areas for tourists. “People tend to see lions through illegal activities like lion shows when they cannot see them in (legal) safaris. So, we have decided to increase the number of such safari permits from 750 to 1,110 in a week,” he said.
The Forest Minister also announced to develop a new tourism zone at Chikhalkuba village of Amreli district in order “to decrease the load of tourists on Sasan Tourism Zone”. “The lion safaris will start in the sanctuary area of Girnar mountain. Simultaneously, new safari routes will be added to Sasan zone,” he added.
Meanwhile, the PTI reported that the state government is also considering to fit radio collars on every lion to track their movements. “The issue of placing radio collars on each lion (in the sanctuary) is under consideration and a decision to this effect will be taken soon,” the PTI quoted Minister of State for Forests and Environment Ramanlal Patkar as saying.
The government is also set to declare an area of 109 square kilometre from Amreli and Bhavnagar districts as Conservation Reserve under the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act. These are the areas which have been witnessing movement of lions outside the sanctuary area.
Under the Act, four kinds of protective areas can be notified — sanctuary, national park, conservation reserve and community reserve.
In another important administrative decision, Vasava said that the entire area of lion habitat will be brought under the single Junagadh Circle. Till now, the areas of lion habitats fell under three circles — Junagadh Wildlife Circle, Junagadh Regional Circle and Rajkot Circle. Vasava said that apart from the Gir Sanctuary, lions have settled or mobility in revenue areas and small forest areas. And therefore, a new division will be set up in Amreli under the control of Chief Conservator of Forest (Junagadh Wildlife Circle), covering nine talukas of Amreli and Bhavnagar districts.
Gir Wildlife Sanctuary covers total area of 1,625 square kilometre. However, lions have spread their habitat even in revenue areas surrounding the sanctuary and the forest area, totalling around 2,2000 square kilometre.
The government’s decisions follow the High Court’s order last Wednesday, which directed it to file a fresh affidavit, giving details of the specific steps taken in the last couple of years to stop death of lions in and around the Gir forest caused by open wells, electrocution, vehicular traffic among others.