Ahmedabad: The Asiatic lions will finally get a bigger safety cover outside the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, the last abode of this endangered species in the world. The Gujarat government has initiated a process to establish the new Shetrunji Wildlife Division and approved 104 posts for it, including a deputy conservator, two assistant conservators, seven range forest officers and members of the administrative staff.
Currently, there are two wildlife divisions in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary — Gir East and Gir West division —which work under the Junagadh Wildlife Circle. The new Shetrunji Wildlife Division will also fall under the Junagadh Wildlife Circle which is headed by the chief conservator of forests.
According to a 2015 census, Gir was home to 523 lions. Out of the total 523 Lions, 200 were found outside the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary. Lions are found in over 400 villages of the Amreli and Bhavnagar districts.
In recent years, the lions roaming outside the protected areas have been facing harassment by people and illegal ‘lion shows’ have become a headache for the forest department. Since there was no dedicated wildlife division for these areas in Amreli and Bhavnagar districts, the protection and rescue operations are being looked after by respective social forestry and territorial divisions in addition to their routine work.
“With a new wildlife division equipped with required manpower and infrastructure, forest department will be able to protect and conserve lions effectively outside the wildlife Sanctuary. The new division will be headquartered at Palitana town of Bhavnagar district. Seven new wildlife ranges will be established in the new division, including Rajula, Jafarabad, Liliya, Mahuva, Jesar, Palitana and Talaja wildlife ranges. Thirty animal trackers will also be recruited for (on contractual) basis in this new division.
According to the forest department, in the last two years, as many as 2,156 wild animals were rescued, mostly from outside the wildlife sanctuary areas. In order to strengthen the wildlife rescue operations, seven rescue Centres will be set up in Amreli, Gir-Somnath, Junagadh and Jamnagar district, and will help in attending rescue calls immediately. It will also reduce the human-wildlife conflicts and provide timely treatment of lions. Each rescue centre will be equipped to accommodate 30 to 40 wild animals. The forest department will also form 10 new rescue teams to handle the rescue operations.
Apart from the new wildlife division, Maliya-Hatina wildlife range will also be created and will be under the Gir-West division. The government has approved 23 new posts for it, including range forest officer for the new range.
In the last two years, as many as 204 lions died in the Gir forest region. Of these 204 deaths, 27 lions died because of unnatural causes such as falling into a well or being run over by a train, the Gujarat government told legislative Assembly in February.
In order to provide ecological and legal safety cover, the government has proposed to declare 109 square km area in Bhavnagar and Amreli district as Conservation Reserve. According to sources, the process has been underway at different stages at the government level.