The king of the jungle seems to have found a friend in the villagers living around Gir forest. The lion population has shown a healthy development and increased considerably. For this, the forest officers give credit to the villagers who treat the lions as their own.
Lions are disappearing on a large scale. While it may be true for most parts of the globe, the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat seems to have set a different example. Subsequent efforts by the state’s forest department have helped provide a safe environment for the Asiatic lions in the sanctuary. This has led to a considerable increase in the lion population. From 411 during the last census in 2010, there are 523 lions in 2015.
The 14th Asiatic Lion census conducted over an area of about 20,000 km has revealed that today there are 523 lions comprising 109 males, 201 females and 213 cubs at the Gir sanctuary which is the world’s only home of Asiatic lion.
But what’s surprising is the role of the villagers in this healthy development. The villagers seem to sleep more soundly with the lions around, literally. According to forest department officials, it is only because of the people living around Gir that the lions are safe outside the sanctuary. They claim that the men and women of the Saurashtra region have looked after the lions as their own. They sometimes even sacrifice their cattle for the big cats. People of Amreli even organized a prayer meeting after 13 lions were washed away in the flash floods that hit the district recently.
Deputy conservator of forests Anshuman Sharma says that there have been instances where farmers from a village called Gondol told the forest officials not to capture a certain lioness as it acts like a security guard, protecting them and their fields from other wild animals.
“Rajmata, a radio-collared lioness, had wandered away from the area. The forest department captured the lioness, gave it a new radio-collar, and kept it in the zoo,” says Manoj Joshi, trustee of Pariyavaran Samiti in the area. “But the local residents went to the forest office and urged the officials to free the lioness,” he proudly adds.
These villagers seem to be the ones who are actually living this year’s World Lion Day campaign theme in its complete spirit – ‘Saving the King of Beasts to Save Ourselves’