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Four Gir lions dead in less than two months

Friday 17 February 2006, by PANDYA*Haresh

Rajkot, February 16, 2006

There seems to be no end to lion deaths at Gir sanctuary. On Tuesday, forest officials found carcasses of a lioness and leopard. With this, the official number of dead lions for just this year goes up to four. At least a dozen lions were reported dead in Gir last year.

The carcass of the lioness was discovered by a beat guard near Jasadhar range. It was sent for post-mortem, and its viscera and other parts sent for forensic tests. The lioness was missing a claw.

As for the leopard carcass, forest guards chanced upon it in a farm on the periphery of Gir. It was half-eaten by wild animals and missing its rear left leg and three claws. Pieces of its bones littered the area. The guards also found footmarks of unidentified wild animals in the farm and presumed the leopard had died in a fight.

"All I can confirm is that a lioness and leopard have been found dead. I’m afraid I’ve no more details. However, we’ve been inquiring as to how and under what circumstances they died," the chief wildlife warden and additional principal conservator of forests told HT.

Dead animals have been found to be missing claws in the past too, and animal activists say this points to the involvement of poachers. But Bharat Pathak, conservator of forests, wildlife circle, Junagadh, and in-charge of Gir sanctuary, said: "A claw of the lioness was missing. But she must have lost it to some disease or physical problem. Investigations are on. We’re awaiting the forensic report. Inquiry into the leopard death has also been initiated."

The first lion death this year in Gir was reported on January 14, when forest officials came across the carcass of a cub in Jasadhar range. It reportedly died of a mysterious disease. Then on February 3, the decomposed carcass of an adult lion was discovered from Timbarwa beat in Tulshishyam range. The third case was reported on February 11, when a three-month cub was found dead in an open well in Hadala range.

A case was registered under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 against three members of the nomadic Maldhari tribe - who live in Gir and rear and sell cattle - for digging a well in a prohibited area. "We’ve instructed the local staff to intensify patrolling in the area so that such accidents don’t occur again," said forest officer J.S. Solanki.

"It’s a serious matter that all four lion deaths in 2006 have occurred in the protected Gir sanctuary itself. One of them even died after falling into an illegal well. It just goes to show how careless and irresponsible Gir authorities are. They seem to have learnt no lesson from last year," said Amit Jethwa, president, Gir Nature Youth Club.

See online : The Hindustan Times

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