Despite several instances of lions dying outside Gujarat’s Gir Sanctuary, the government has not increased the lions’ protected habitat in the past decade, the Comptroller and Auditor General said in a report.
The auditor said there had been a 54.6% increase in the population of the Asiatic lion outside the Gir Sanctuary between 2011 and 2015, but the state government had done little to expand the protected area – essential both to conserve the lion population and protect humans and livestock, The Indian Express reported. At least 21 lions have died of unnatural causes between 2012-’13 and 2016-’17 as a result.
“In view of the rising population and high instances of deaths of lions outside the Gir Protected Area during 2012-’13 to 2016-’17, the creation of new protected areas was one of the available options with the forest department,” the newspaper quoted from the CAG report.
It added that the last expansion of the lion habitat had been approved by the Union Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change in 2008, but no action has been taken since.
The CAG said conservation efforts were paying off – the population of Asiatic Lions has increased from 205 in 1979 to 523 lions in 2015 – but this was also increasing the pressure on the existing protected area, PTI reported .
“Of the 523, 167 lions, or a third of the total population have their habitat outside the Gir Protected Area,” the CAG said. To provide a safe corridor for the lions that move out of the protected area, the Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), in 2005, had proposed a new sanctuary in a 30,000-hectare plot in Amreli and Bhavnagar district, the report pointed out.
That proposal was revised and the area to be set aside was reduced to 10,953 hectares, it said adding that until May 2017, the state’s revenue department was yet to transfer 4,800 hectares of waste land to the forest department to set up the reserve.
The report also said the latest lion census was a warning sign, according to The Indian Express. “The proposal submitted in March 2016 for a draft Eco Sensitive Zone notification for Gir Protected Area reports that 32% of lions have their habitat outside the Gir Protected Area, risking human lives, livestock as well as the safety of the lions themselves,” it said.
The CAG criticised the Gujarat government’s progress to conduct a DNA mapping of lions saying it was “slow despite the availability of funds”.