Forest officials play cat and mouse with lions

October 28th, 2008 - 3:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Ahmedabad, Oct 28 (IANS) Gujarat forest officers have set a bait to catch a lioness and three of its cubs who have strayed far beyond their natural habitat in the Gir sanctuary, an official said Tuesday.”All the four animals are at a ’safe place’ and under continuous observation by our senior officers though they are yet to be caught,” chief conservator of forests (Junagadh range) Bharat Pathak told IANS on telephone.

He said the lioness and its cubs were spotted near Gondal, 37 km from Rajkot, and two forest department teams had set the bait to lure them back into the jungles.

Forest officials are surprised that lions could stray so far out of the Gir forest and reach the outskirts of Gondal, some 150 km away.

This movement is a “natural dispersion”, said environmentalist Amit Jethava of the Gir Nature Your Club that has been fighting to save Gir lions from poaching.

“It happened in 2001 when a lion pride reached the outskirts of Gondal. I think illegal limestone mining is one of the factors forcing lions out (of the forests),” Jethava said.

Kishore Kotecha, head of the Wildlife Conservation Trust at Rajkot, said lions prefer open grasslands while the Gir forests have become dense with extra growth of trees. “What is adding to the problem is a Supreme Court ruling banning cutting down of trees,” he said.

“The forest department should plan ‘thinning’ of trees to make lions’ habitat comfortable,” Kotecha said. The growth of human population around the Gir forest also could be a reason for lions to venture out as more and more forest lands are being encroached, Kotecha added.

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