Gir Lion Death Toll Reaches 23: Supreme Court, Gujarat High Court Express Worry

by October 5, 2018 0 comments

Gir forest national park

The Supreme Court said that the unusual deaths of lions at the Gir Forest National Park, Gujarat were an extremely serious matter.

The mysterious deaths of 23 Asiatic Lions in Gujarat’s Gir National Park within a matter of three weeks raises serious questions about Indian efforts in the protection and conservation of these majestic beasts for whom this country, or to be more precise the State of Gujarat, is the last wild safe haven. Rightly has the episode ignited national outrage. The Supreme Court, expressing its concern at newspaper reports highlighting the deaths of the iconic big cats, termed the situation as “peculiar” and asked the Government to take stock before matters spiral out of control and the king of the jungle goes extinct. What has shocked even cynical observers is the cavalier manner in which the authorities have dealt with the situation. In an attempt to escape accountability, Gir National Park officials have been busy shifting the blame for the multiple lion deaths on to the animals themselves.

According to one of them, the males of the pride have been fighting over territory and mates and killing each other. The death of three lionesses made it amply clear that there was more to it than what was being projected. Admittedly, in a pride, lions do kill each other on occasion to establish territorial supremacy and asset mating rights with females but killing or even harming lionesses would have been atypical behavior. It is, ironically, this attempt to shift the blame by park officials which alerted wildlife activists and raised suspicions which an examination of the blood samples of the dead animals confirmed — the lions and lionesses who were dropping like flies were suffering from a deadly canine distemper virus and protozoal infection. While the public outcry has led to emergency measures being put in place and the authorities have ordered 300 shots of a vaccine from the US apart from confining 30 of the big cats in a secure part of the national park for close observation, the viral outbreak if not handled with utmost care has the potential to wipe out the entire lion population confined as it is to a single habitat.

Gir is the only habitat for all Asiatic Lions in the world. In recent times, however, lion deaths in and around the national park have gone up as highways and railway tracks extend, human settlements expand, poachers get more active and the perennial animal-man battle for supremacy intensifies. More than 30 lions have died in accidents out of a total of 180 lions dead over the past two years. According to the 2015 census, Gir was home to 523 lions: 109 males, 201 females, 73 sub-adults, and 140 cubs; today, only an estimated 300 remain. The State Government had, it must be pointed out in all fairness, do a fairly decent job of protecting the Asiatic Lion until the spate of recent deaths. Gir added more than 120 lions between 2015 and 2018. But past performance cannot be a mitigating factor in fixing accountability. In 2013, a worried Supreme Court had ordered the shifting of a few lions to the neighboring State of Madhya Pradesh within six months to try and develop a secondary habitat for the animals on the advice of wildlife experts. Five years on, the move has still not come to fruition with Gujarat having reportedly made the transfer a matter of, pun unintended, pride. Now that an epidemic seems to have broken out in Gir, the only hope for the survival of these majestic beasts rests on changing the habitat of at least some of them which would also have the effect of aiding their genetic robustness. Pride, after all, comes before fall.

Writer: Pioneer

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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