Human-animal conflict

After spate of attacks, concerns grow over Gir's lions prowling outside their natural habitat

The Asiatic lions have expanded their fiefdom to a staggering 22,000 sq-km across eight of the nine districts in the sprawling Saurashtra region.

Last December, in two separate incidents on the same day, lions attacked and killed two people outside their habitat in the Gir forest, the only abode of the Asiatic lion. Worried forest officials classified the incidents as rarest of the rare, given that the wild cats seldom kill humans unless provoked.

But with lions killing four more people over the last three months, the phenomenon is no longer rare. This is besides the latest attack on a 30-year-old man on Saturday, May 28, who was rushed to a hospital.

All the seven attacks since December were unprovoked. The victims were killed either while sleeping in the fields, relieving themselves, or while keeping watch over farms and mango orchards.

The real big story is that all the attacks took place outside the animal's natural habitat, in non-forest revenue areas heavily populated by humans and hubs of social and commercial activity.

Expanding territory

There is nothing to suggest that such incidents will not recur, given the fact that the Asiatic lion is no longer restricted to its traditional zone of 6,000 sq-km. According to the 2015 census, these lions have now expanded their fiefdom to a staggering 22,000 sq-km across eight of the nine districts in the sprawling Saurashtra region. Their territory could well expand, given that the number of lions has been increasing over the years thanks to conservation efforts. From 411 in the 2010 census, the number of Asiatic lions rose to 523 in last year’s census.

According to Jamaal Ahmed Khan, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife, around 40% of these lions have been roaming in regions outside their natural habitat.

This explains the increasing attacks on humans, as well as the growing number of accidental deaths of lions. There have been cases of lions being mowed down by vehicles and goods trains plying between mining and port areas. There have also been incidents of lions falling into open wells and being electrocuted by fences put up by farmers to protect their agricultural produce.

Apart from busy railway lines, five state highways traverse through the forest. There is a cement factory less than 15-km from the Gir sanctuary and there has been an increase in sand mining activities. There are also three major temples and 23 shrines that are a big draw for tourists and pilgrims. With heavy tourist traffic, hotels and guest houses – both legal and illegal – have been mushrooming in the region. There are nearly a hundred of them within a 6 km radius of the Sasan-Gir forest. The Gujarat High Court ordered the closure of 66 such facilities operating without the required permissions in the sanctuary’s buffer zone of Junagadh, Amreli and Gir-Somnath districts.

As many as 310 lions and 547 leopards have died in the region over the last five years. Last year, 91 lions died, up from 78 in 2014 and 76 in 2013. Gujarat forest minister Mangubhai Patel claims the majority of deaths were from natural causes.

Time bomb

The Gujarat government celebrated the result of the 2015 census, which showed an increase of 82 lions over the previous five years. While HS Singh, a veteran forest officer and senior member of the National Board for Wildlife, shared their joy, he was conscious of the rider in that statistic.

“We’re sitting on a time bomb with such exponential growth of lions outside the protected areas, and this is spilling into the entire Saurashtra region,” Singh said. “The challenge is not just about developing new habitats for the lions complete with prey base and water points, which itself is a Herculean task, but also about managing the near impossible man-animal conflict which is already happening.”

The 2015 census, which was the biggest-ever, covered 22,000 sq-km and found a rise of only 4.4% or 14 lions in the sanctuary and protected forest areas, as against an increase of 130% or 96 lions in areas of human habitation with increasing commercial activities.

For Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife, Jamaal Ahmed Khan, the immediate concern was the anger among the locals in Amreli district, where the lions recently killed three people. Another death of a 70-year-old woman happened on May 25 in the Gir-Somnath district.

In all the four cases, the villagers said the beasts ate up the flesh of the deceased, giving rise to the fear that some lions may have turned man-eaters. In the May 28 attack in an Amreli district village, Chandru Vala, 30, was admitted in a local hospital with several paw wounds on his back and the waist.

“We have trapped and caged an entire pride of 16 lions in phases during the last three days [May 21-23] as a precautionary measure to ensure no more attacks,” he said. “People are very angry and it is also our duty to protect human beings along with the animals.”

Forest officials, in the meantime, were also waiting for the stool test reports of the lions to establish which of the 16 beasts have turned into man-eaters, since attacking humans does not necessarily mean the lions have tasted their flesh. The forest officials do not wish to cause a public outcry and panic situation in the region.

Translocation the solution?

This, however, is only the immediate cause of worry and does not take away from the larger challenge rising from the movement of the lions outside their traditional natural habitats. The increasing attacks on human beings also suggest the shrinking traditional prey base of the king of the jungle outside its fiefdom. And this brings into play, yet again, the need to translocate some of the animals to establish a second free-ranging population of lions. “The one big conservation action that has not been taken so far is to comply with the Supreme Court judgment regarding the translocation of lions,” said wildlife expert Ravi Chellam, executive director of Greenpeace India. “This is an urgent and necessary issue.”

The Gujarat government has made it a prestige issue in the Supreme Court, arguing that it will not part with Gujarat’s lions for Madhya Pradesh or any other state since the increase in its population means the lions are comfortable in their current home.

“Lions have thrived in this region and their population has also increased,” said Chellam. “But the big problem is the protection of the habitat both within the sanctuary as well as in the surrounding landscapes. Fairly rapid change in land-use and the construction of highways and other infrastructural projects, including fences and walls, are all fragmenting, degrading and destroying wildlife habitats.”

The writer is the Editor, Development News Network, Gujarat.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.

Play

In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.

Play

Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.

Play

The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.

Play

The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.