The Gujarat Forest Department has admitted that more than 160 Asiatic lions, found only in India, have died in the Gir forest in the last two years since the 2015 census put their population at record 523. This included death of 95 lions from April 2015 to March 2016, and another 67 from April last year to date.
What was more shocking of the 95 deaths recorded last year was that 25 died unnaturally, including of electrocution by coming in contact with live wires put up by farmers to save their crops from herbivorous animals and falling into wells left open by farmers in their fields, the department revealed in a reply to a query under the RTI Act.
Almost all unnatural deaths were recorded in the areas outside the protected sanctuary zone in the periphery of the villages falling within Gir forest as under pressure of increasing population and shortage of prey, a number of Asiatic lions fanned outside the sanctuary zone and into the habituated villages. The wildlife experts said some of the carcasses of the lions were found in such highly decomposed conditions that it was even difficult to ascertain the exact causes of their death.
The high death rate of the lions concerns environmentalists who have urged the state government to expand the protected zone to cover the wastelands and some other areas in the periphery, particularly because the state government was opposed to the idea of shifting a few species to Kuno-Palpur forests in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh to create a second home for the Asiatic lions. (The Tribune)