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Let the Lions of Gir Disperse Naturally, Says IFS Officer 

It has reached such a point that lions, one of the most majestic and fiercest of carnivorous wild animals, can be said to be staring at extinction. Both the Asiatic and the African lions have been declared as vulnerable species. 

And, most of the population of Asiatic lions are found in Gujarat, primarily in Gir. Although the state government is going all out for their conservation, one point that is raised commonly by both keen wildlife enthusiasts and activists alike is, why to put all eggs in one basket? Why can’t we move few Gir lions to other forests and let them flourish exponentially. 

However, 2008 batch-IFS officer Anshuman Sharma, who is from Gujarat himself, is of the view that the focus should be on natural dispersal and not a forced one. 

In an exclusive conversation with Indian Masterminds, Mr. Sharma, who is currently the Conservator of Forest, Vadodara range, talked about some major points related to conservation of lions. 

HUMANS ARE TROUBLE MAKERS 

We are talking about one of the biggest carnivores and there are multiple factors which determine the growth of any animal, said Mr. Sharma, who hails from Bihar and has a Ph.D in Molecular Biology. He has served more than 8 years in Gir and nearby areas, and has been working for the conservation of the lions. Remembering his first posting as Range Officer in the interior of Gir, he said, “The range station and the quarter given to us were in the middle of the forest. The nearest village was 18 km away. I shifted there with my wife and one-year-old daughter. I fell in love with the forest during those days. The lions used to roam around in the range station compound. At times, on coming back home, I would find lions sitting outside it. You would expect the lions to attack you. But, that doesn’t happen. They hunt only when they are hungry or feel threatened. Even the wild animals are way better than us, humans.”

CO-EXISTENCE IS NOT A MYTH

In east Gir, most of the area do not come under reserve forest or legal forest area. These areas are patchy or agriculture land. “You will often come across lions sitting in the fields. They are like friends of the farmers as they hunt wild boars or Neelgais who harm their crops. The people and lions co-exist peacefully,” Mr. Sharma said. 

This has been possible because people there have been living with lions for 100 of years now. Besides, the forest department has always focused on people’s participation in any welfare move for the lions. And, in case of any conflict or if any cattle is killed, the department provides immediate compensation. 

CAN’T PUT ALL THE GUARDS DOWN 

In the last few years, the number of lions has increased by around 29% in the Gir. According to 2020 census, the estimated number of lions (male, female and cubs) have reached to 674. This has happened because of the efforts made on all fronts. “Any living being reproduces only when they have all the comforts. We focused on habitat building and water availability. Plus, people’s support in the conservation. Now the lions have reached to around 150 km from Gir,” the officer said, adding that when they are already expanding their territory, “we don’t need to push it. Let them disperse naturally because they are living beings, not any scientific experiment.” 

He further said that since the lions are entering spaces where they never went in the last 50 years, the department needs to deal with the people who will now come across this species, but have very little knowledge about them. 

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