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Two Asiatic lions slain in Gir; villagers suspected
By Rupak Sanyal in Ahmedabad | September 20, 2005 19:26 IST
Two Asiatic lions slain in a game reserve in Gujarat over the weekend were likely killed by electric fences erected by villagers to keep the endangered predators from hunting cattle, forest officials said Tuesday.
The lions were found dead in a protected part of the Gir forest where several villages are also located, said Bharat Pathak, an official at the game forest reserve.
The carcasses appeared to have been electrocuted by powerful makeshift electric fences that are connected to power lines, he said. "The cause of death appears to be electrocution. We have sent the carcasses for autopsy."
The Gir forest is located about 330 km southwest of Ahmedabad, Gujarat's main commercial hub.
The competition over land between rural villagers and animals is threatening wildlife throughout the subcontinent, and villagers put up the deadly electric fences to keep lions away from their cattle and foraging animals away from their crops.
The Asiatic lion is among the most endangered large cat species in the world. Native to the Gir forest region of Gujarat, persistent poaching and disease pushed their numbers to under 200 in the early 1970's.
But conservation efforts in the Gir reserve appear to have paid off and a lion census conducted in April found that their numbers had risen to around 359.
"We've asked the villagers to stop putting up electric fences, but they have refused," said Pathak.
With scant resources and few guards, he said there was little hope of making sure no electric fences had been put up.
"We can neither confine the lion to a specific area within the forest, nor can we check every village household to check if they have put up electric fencing," he said.
A forest official said a sick lioness was spotted near Khokhra quarter near Sasan and was taken for treatment, but died during treatment.
Asked if it could be a suspected case of poisoning by poachers, the official said this case seemed unlike the work of poachers, but it would be investigated.
In the other two cases, a dead lion was found in Janvadla area of Sasan and another sick lion was spotted near Nanavisavadar of Khambha taluka, the official said adding, this one too died during treatment.
"Forest officials are also investigating if lions and lionesses are suffering from pneumonia as some of the sick lions have shown some symptoms of this," the forest official said. He said concerned experts, including himself, were on the field and verifying this by taking as many samples as they could get and also generally checking on the health of the beasts in these weather conditions.
Even though the forest department is vigilant against poachers and there have not been any major cases of poaching in Gir sanctuary for quite some time, the department had recently arrested three persons for luring a lion to a carcass that was sprinkled with some poison and tore away its precious claws after it died due to the toxic effect.
"These three persons, all locals, were arrested last week and the claws have also been recovered from them," the official said.
"Investigation did not reveal the role of any national or international racket. Probe is still underway," he added. The last census of the Asiatic lions conducted by the Gujarat government in April 2005 showed a rise in the number of the species with a head count of 359. The recent rains in Gujarat had also claimed the lives of two lions within the sanctuary premises.
With PTI inputs