In a move to protect Asiatic lions in the Gir National Park and Sanctuary, the Gujarat state government has prescribed strict legal action and up to seven years in prison against individuals who tease or harass members of the species.
The government announced a series of steps aimed at protecting the endangered species in its last existing home. An area spanning 109 square km in Amreli and Bhavnagar, found to be inhabited by around 200 Asiatic lions as of 2015, has been declared a “conservation reserve”.
A network of police department “informers” will be created to provide tip-offs to officials regarding illegal activity involving the animals.
This move comes as a response to illegal lion shows that were being organised regularly in the sanctuary. There have also been cases of the Asiatic lions being offered bait so that they could be lured into the open for tourists to see.
Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava announced all these decisions at a press conference, adding, “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.”
On Tuesday, Times of India reported that in response to the deaths of 57 Asiatic lions due to “unnatural causes” over the last five years, the Gujarat government was also considering tracking their movement by placing radio collars on them.
“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,” Ramanlal Patkar, the Minister of State for Forests and Environment was quoted as saying. He also claimed that at present, the number of Asiatic lions in Gir stands at over 600.
The government identified four causes of death categorised as “unnatural”— road accidents, wells with damaged parapets, railway tracks passing through forest areas, and electric fences around agricultural tracts.
In May this year, a private company was given permission by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to carry out limestone mining 6.25km from the sanctuary. While guidelines have been issued in order to prevent damage, many experts have condemned the move and claimed that it poses a threat to Gir’s lion population.