Guj: Asiatic lions census deferred due to lockdown

Ahmedabad: The census of Asiatic lions in Gujarat’s Gir Wildlife Sanctuary has been deferred due to the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus, a senior forest official said on Thursday.

The extensive counting exercise, which is taken up every five years, was to begin next month and preparations for it were on in full swing, but it has now been postponed because of the unprecedented coronavirus crisis, he said.

Gujarat has so far reported 2,407 coronavirus cases and 103 deaths due to the disease.

“In view of the lockdown, the lion census will not take place in May. A decision on the census will be taken only after things become clear on the coronavirus situation and the lockdown, Chief Conservator of Forest, Junagadh division, D T Vasavda told PTI.

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Initially, it was decided to conduct the census in May and then it was postponed to June, but now it all depends on the situation, he said.

The Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, which is the only abode of Asiatic lions, remains closed during the monsoon season from June-end to October, which is also the mating period of big cats, another official said, adding that the census is most unlikely at that time.

During the last census conducted in May 2015, 523 lions were found in the Gir forest.

The state has succeeded in conserving lions in the Gir forest, where their numbers dwindled to just over a dozen in the early 20th century.

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The erstwhile Nawab of Junagadh, Mahabat Khan, had then banned shooting of lions.

Due to conservation efforts of the state authorities after Independence, the number of wild cats has steadily gone up in Gir.

At present, lions are found in seven districts – Junagadh, Amreli, Bhavnagar, Gir Somnath, Botad, Porbandar and Rajkot – surrounding the Gir forest area.

At times, they stray into farms in these districts and sometimes enter cities and towns located on the periphery of the sanctuary.

Two years backs, lions in Gir faced a threat of infectious diseases.

The state government in February last year said as many as 34 lions died in 2018 due to various diseases, including the canine distemper virus.

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