Alleging carelessness in protecting Asiatic lions by the Gujarat State Forest Department, Congress MLA from Visavadar, Harshad Ribadiya claimed on Wednesday that 238 lions had died during the last five years.
During his speech on budgetary allocations to the Gujarat State Forest Department in the Gujarat Assembly today, Ribadiya claimed, "As per government figures, 411 lions live in the Gir forest. However, the census was carried out five years ago. During that period, almost 238 lions died. Thus, only 173 lions remain today. If you (forest department) do not take steps to protect lions, these 173 lions would also vanish within the next five years."
However, forest department officials said that natural deaths of lions take place as per their lifecycle of 15 years, and births of new cubs replace the old generation. So against the number of deaths, almost a similar number of births are also recorded in the forest, they said.
According to the MLA, the Gujarat state government alloted Rs 82.61 crore for protection of lions in its recent budget. "If you divide that amount with 173 lions, then it can be said that the government would spend Rs 47 lakh on each lion. But, what exactly did the forest department do? Are they going to feed lions so that they don't come outside the forest area in search of food?" asked Ribadiya, who alleged that lions are left to fend for themselves.
"Lions do not find any animals, such as Neelgai (blue bull) and wild boars inside the forest area. Thus, they encroach into nearby villages and kill our cattle. I urge you to take necessary steps," Ribadiya said to prove his point.
Earlier, on July 11, the Gujarat government had admitted in the House that 66 Asiatic lions died within the last one year in and around the Gir forest. Among these, 55 lions died a natural death and eight died in various other incidents, such as falling into open wells.
Gujarat Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava also admitted that three lions died after being run over by trains in different areas of Amreli district.