The drought-prone areas of Saurashtra and Kutch in Gujarat struck by unseasonal heavy rains claimed the lives of 9 Asiatic lions after they got stuck in the flash flood. About 35 lions were reported missing. Amreli district, where the average monsoon rainfall is 600mm received 816 mm rainfall over three days was the worst affected. Carcasses of three lions were found here. Two lions were found dead in Bhavnagar district.
Mr. C.B.Dhandhiya, assistant conservator of forests reports that at least 35 other lions are missing from the region. About 15 teams of forest guards are scouring the forests in search of these animals and more carcasses of animals. The mortal remains of 150 blue bulls (neelgai), 4 spotted deer (cheetal), a wild boar and a porcupine were also found.
Among the lions found dead in Amreli district were a five-year old male and a three month old female from Gagadiyo river at Boringada vidi village and a lioness aged around 6 to 8 years from Bavadi village; both in Liliya taluk. In Bhavnagar, the bodies of a male and a female lion were washed ashore the ShetrunjiRiver in Garajiya village in Palitana taluk. All the carcasses of lions have been sent for postmortem. Altogether, bodies over a 1000 animals were found in the flood-hit Saurashtra region. Leopards seem to have survived Nature’s fury and escaped to safety, for no leopard was found dead.
The team of forest officials also consists of animal experts, locally known as puggies, who use pug marks, lion fur on trees and other such trails to reach the lions stranded in the flood waters and weakened by hunger and exhaustion.
Some of the lions have sought shelter in villages located on the fringes of the forest. One such lion was spotted in a temple in Ingroli village of Amreli. Yet another lion was found strolling on the highway near Junagadh. In an attempt to escape the fury of the rains and rising flood waters, these lions could be risking their lives by getting closer to human settlements and on the highway.
Saurashtra and Kutch are drought-prone areas with acute water shortage. The sudden rains arrived a month before the scheduled monsoon bringing a lot of water to the parched lands and causing much devastation in the area.
Risk of a Single Habitat
In the midst of this tragedy, another controversy has been raked up yet again. Gujarat is the sole home of the Asiatic lion in the world and while the numbers of the animal have increased consistently, the fear remains that a single habitat for all the remaining lions is not without its risks. And the flood gives evidence of what could suddenly go wrong.
In the past there were plans to relocate some of the lions to Madhya Pradesh. However, owing to certain differences, this was never implemented.
According to wildlife expert Ravi Chellam,
“There is no way to predict the occurrence of catastrophes, which is why it is crucial to establish at least one more free-ranging population of lions before such risks manifest again,”
Hopefully, the tragedy will allow policymakers to hasten the process of lion relocation and ensure that the singular species is not wiped out entirely because of delayed implementations of plans doled out years ago.
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