Lions: Unsafe in Gir, in peril outside

Times of India , Monday, April 16, 2007
Correspondent : Himanshu Kaushik
BHANDERIYA (BHAVNAGAR): Gujarat's forest department hardly has an intelligence network in Gir and surrounding areas where the lions have wandered off. And when local villagers nabbed suspected poachers recently and alerted the department, the forest officials let them go free, only to kill at least two more lions in Bhavnagar district.

This startling information came out during investigations by TOI in and around the spot where two lion carcasses were recovered late on Saturday. On April 2, the villagers in Bhanderiya had apprised the forest department about suspicious movement of outsiders camping on the outskirts of the village.

This was two days after the second poaching incident was reported in Babariya range and forest department should have been sufficiently alert. But forest department officials, after an inquiry, let the gang members go.Village sarpanch Abhabhai Ravat said, "Two weeks back we had spotted some people fishing in a pond near the village.

We requested them to desist from this activity but when they got aggressive, we informed the forest department and the police." The forest department officials came and talked to these people and let them off because they did not find anything suspicious.

When five members of the gang, who were arrested last week while trying to flee from Bhavnagar railway station, were brought to Bhanderiya on Saturday to help police locate more lion graves, the villagers recognised them as the same people who were seen fishing earlier.

Kamaliya Bacha Laxman, the talati of the village, confirmed that the gang believed to have killed the lions was the same whose suspicious conduct was reported to the authorities. He said the gang members also had a minor skirmish with the villagers after the incident.

Laxman said the village had often seen a pride of lions in the vicinity, consisting of two adult males, one female and a cub. Last week, he had spotted only the lioness and the cub about three kilometres from the spot where the two lion carcasses were found.

SOURCE : Times of India, Monday, April 16, 2007

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