The arrest of two farmers in connection with the death of a lioness has exposed a bigger malaise plaguing the regions that the Asiatic lions call their home i.e., the rise in number of herbivores.
This trend is resulting in increasing man-animal conflict with the Asiatic lions turning out to be the accidental victims in the fight.
Activists and farmers say that nilgais and wild boars destroying standing crop is a genuine problem that farmers in the region are facing although both are unanimous in their opinion that the lions are just accidental victims and not the targets.
“I have seen farms that have been completely destroyed by these herbivores. It is then obvious that the farmers will do something to protect their farms and many resort to laying traps for nilgais and wild boars,” said Dinesh Goswami, an activist.
He said that the farmers in fact prefer having lions or leopards near their fields. “This ensures that the herbivores stay away. But the cats are unwittingly getting caught in farmers’ attempts to protect the crop,” said Goswami.
He added that unlike cattle being attacked by lions, there is no compensation for farm produce that is destroyed by herbivores. “The nilgais are turning out to be a big menace. They can’t be killed and their numbers are increasing. The farmers don’t get compensated for their loss so they resort to laying traps,” said Goswami.
It should be noted that the census in 2013 had shown 18% increase in herbivores in the Gir Sanctuary and National Park in the past three years. There was also a 25% rise in wild boar population.
Ukabhai Vasa — who belongs to Dhamraj village in Sutrapada taluka of Somnath district — said that they spend 25% of their income in securing their farms. “If you want to know the destruction these herbivores are causing you have to visit the farms at night. Farmers are spending their earnings installing solar lights, laying boundaries and hiring watchmen,” said Vasa.
He said that even if the government managed to fence the forest area a lot of trouble could be avoided.