Pride of lions expanding to Botad: Forest dept eyes public outreach


ASIATIC LIONS seem to have expanded their territory to one more district in Gujarat’s Saurashtra region as the movement of the big cats in the Botad district has intensified over the last year. With the big cats trying to establish their den, the Forest Department has launched a public outreach drive to sensitise people. It is also taking measures to make the habitat suitable for the jungle king.

Presently, a pride of three lions—a lioness and two sub-adults — are camping in villages of Botad’s Gadhada taluka, bordering Babra taluka of Amreli district, Aradhna Sahu, chief conservator of forests (CCF) of Junagadh wildlife circle, said.

“This small pride of lions started exploring new territories away from their habitat in the Gir East Wildlife division in Amreli and entered Botad district in the process. They have been camping in Botad for the last few months,” Sahu said.

Junagadh wildlife circle covers most of the lion landscape, including Gir (east), Gir (west), Porbandar, and Shetrunji wildlife divisions spread across Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli, and Bhavnagar districts as well as Blackbuck National Park in Velavadar, Bhavnagar. Lions are also settled in the territorial forest division of Bhavnagar as well as in social forestry circles of Amreli, Bhavnagar, and Gir Somnath among others. The lions camping in Itariya, Vavdi, Limbadiya, and Moti Kundal of Gadhada near Babra have added one more district where their presence has been consistent over the last year.

“This migration towards Botad actually started last year but it went unnoticed by locals as the lions did not cause any harm. The area has a good population of wild ungulates like blue bulls (nilgai) and stray cattle, constituting the prey base of lions,” the CCF said.

Ayush Verma, the deputy conservator of the social forestry division of Botad, said the district is ready to host lions and that the Forest Department has launched a public outreach drive to prevent any possibility of man-animal conflict.

“While we can’t say that lions have permanently settled in Botad, it is a fact their movement has been reported in the district for the past two years. The movement of lions has intensified over the last year and the presence of at least six has been recorded,” Verma said.

“This is a positive development and Botad is ready to host lions. We have been holding meetings with residents of villages to sensitise them about the development. We have also installed signages and warning boards, alerting the general public that the area has movement of lions. Additionally, we have also created artificial water points in the area to improve habitat for the big cats,” he added.

Verma, who has previously served in the Gir forest, which forms the core of lion habitat in Saurashtra, said that the Botad social forestry division has also started lion management activities. “For the past three months, we have been carrying out Poonam Avalokan. Not only that, but we have also started keeping records of lion observations in the district,” said the DCF.

Poonam Avalokan is the monthly exercise undertaken by the Gujarat Forest Department to take a tally of lions on every full moon night.

There are reserved forests, government wastelands, and gauchar (village pastoral land) in Babra taluka, around 70 km northwest of Dhari, the headquarters of Gir (east) wildlife division. Babra has been recording the lion movement for many years.

In November 2019, two-sub adult lions crossed over to Jasdan taluka of Rajkot district via Babra. They moved further north to reach Vinchhiya taluka before moving to Chotila taluka of Surendragar, also in the north. However, they started moving towards Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary in Junagadh district in April 2020 and reached the forest by covering 140 km in seven days.

Lions are territorial animals, meaning they mark their territory and guard them fiercely. However, as their population has been increasing in Gujarat for three decades, the big cats have been dispersing Gir Forest. They have been spreading east towards Bhavnagar, in the south towards the coastal belt of Rajula, Jafrabad, and Sutrapada, and in the west towards Mangrol, Porbandar, and others. Lions have been visiting the Gondal taluka of Rajkot and even venturing on the outskirts of Rajkot city for the past two-three years.

During the Poonam Avalakon in 2020, which substituted a lion census that was due that year, 674 lions were counted in Saurashtra and as many as 329, or around 49 percent of them, were recorded to have settled outside forested areas.

Besides Gadhda, Verma said, Gariadhar social forestry range in Bhavnagar records regular presence of lions. “One lion is also camping in Velavadar. He has been going to Velvadar and coming back towards Amreli,” said Sahu.


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