By Himanshu Kaushik
AHMEDABAD: Is the world's only abode of Asiatic lions in Gujarat under threat? The Gir wildlife sanctuary and its periphery have witnessed no less than 250 deaths of lions in the last five years. This has raised concerns over the safety of the big cats.
According to the May 2010 census, there are 411 lions in the state spread in the area of 10,000 sqkm. But according to 2013 statistics, lions are now spread in an area of 20,000 sqkm. Experts feel that the death of 250-odd lions is alarming. In 2012-13, the number of deaths was 48, which increased to 53 in 2013-14. Also, in the first three months, approximately 20 lions have died, including eight in accidents. Of these eight, six were run over by trains.
Experts feel that the increase in number of such cases is mainly in the category of unnatural death. This includes electrocution or falling in wells. Officials said that the death of 20-odd lions — over 40% — were because of unnatural deaths in the state.
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Forest officials said "The death of 50-odd lions in the area is totally normal as the figures include that of the new born cubs where the survival rate was only 50%. Earlier, the maximum of two cubs were born to a lioness, but now the number has increased and it is on an average three to four cubs and hence the deaths are also more."
"There are high turnover rates (20%) in high density tiger populations that is lots of individual can die if lots are present. As long as the population shows a positive growth, individual deaths are not a cause of worry for the conservation of a species that has numbers over 150 individuals. Besides only deaths of prime age lions are of concern, in cubs 50% mortality is to be expected. Old lions will die by one cause or other, so when we have over 400 lions large number of deaths is expected, outside of forests most lion deaths get detected and reported.
Therefore, unless population shows a decline (estimated by a rigorous scientific method) individual deaths are not a cause of worry," said Yadvendradev Jhala, a scientist with Wildlife Institute of India and a researcher on big cats.
Year No. of deaths
Figures from April 1 to March 31