Conservation Efforts Ensured Gir’s Asiatic Lions Were a Success Story. Why Have 19 Died in a Year?


Conservation Efforts Ensured Gir’s Asiatic Lions Were a Success Story. Why Have 19 Died in a Year?

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

The Gir Forest in Gujarat is home to the world’s last surviving wild population of Asiatic lions. These highly endangered animals have been the focus of a sustained conservation movement. However, a report in Times of India – which found that an inordinate number of radio-collared lions had died after being tagged – points to possible oversights in the efforts to protect these rare and impressive animals. Out of 89 animals tagged by forest officials since last year, 19 have died. The report features inputs from several wildlife experts who allege “unscientific tagging” on the forest department’s behalf, which could have contributed to the death of the collared lions.

The report features a quote from former Indian Forest Service officer AK Sharma, who says, “I don’t see any justification for collaring so many lions. These collars should be immediately removed. They can cause pressure on their neck and impede their hunting capabilities. It appears that the radio collaring is done to make the lives of the forest officials easy in tracking the majestic beast rather than for any research purposes.”

However, Dushyant Vasavada, chief conservator of forests, Junagadh Wildlife Circle, has refuted these claims, calling the theories linking the radio collars to the lions’ death “baseless”.

The radio collars are a proud acquisition of the Gujarat forest department. Last year, in response to a virus outbreak that claimed the lives of 23 lions in 2018, authorities procured 75 radio collars from Germany at a price of ₹6 lakh per collar. The stated aim was to fit all 75 collars on lions, which appears to have possibly backfired by raising the mortality rate of the animals fitted with collars.

Even as Prime Minister Modi touted the rise in the numbers of Asiatic lions earlier this year, it appears that the population is still vulnerable and any recovery is tentative and conditional.

The sobering statistic that one out of every four collared animals has died should come as a wake-up call for the authorities whose job is to protect the Asiatic lion, and not merely track it via radio collars.