Gandhinagar: Dragging its feet even after a Supreme Court order to hand over a few lions to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh for providing an alternate home to the epidemic prone species, the Gujarat government was forced to admit on Friday that 11 Asiatic lions had died in an equal number of days in Gir forests in Gujarat. This happens to be their solitary global abode.
Media reports of death of less than a dozen lions within the last few days has created a furore. Gujarat has been consistently denying the need of an alternate home for this species, citing many excuses. It even pulled out GK Sinha, principal chief conservator of forests of the State, from a press briefing on Friday. While ministers in the Vijay Rupani government in Gujarat are the first to address the media when there is something to gloat about, no one was present, not even the forest minister, when Sinha sat fielding volleys from the press.
Said Sinha, “Six of the 11 Asiatic lions found dead during the last 11 days were killed in in-fighting. The cause of death of the remaining five is yet to be ascertained.” He added that five other lions injured in the in-fighting have been rescued and moved to safer places. The cover-up had gaping holes because Sinha said that all the carcasses found – largely in the Dalkhania and Jasadhar range – in the heart of the Lion Sanctuary were in a highly decomposed state and it took time for the team of forest officers who had rushed to the spot to even identify their gender.
Sinha said the autopsy reports of eight lions had arrived and prima facie experts are of the opinion that six of the big cats died of infighting. “Post-mortem reports of the remaining three Asiatic lions is awaited, but most probably the cause of death is the same.” However, sources in Sasan Gir said that the facts were to the contrary. Due to heavy inbreeding, lions in this preserve are very susceptible to infection.” It is an official adduced cover-up because the apex court would take a very serious view of any infection or epidemic deaths,” the sources added. While admitting that so many deaths in such a short span of time needed to be thoroughly probed, he said that death of lions due to territorial war is a natural phenomenon. The state forest department carries out a lion census every five years.