Two lionesses were mowed down by a speeding goods train near the Gir forest on Wednesday morning. The accident on the Surendranagar Pipavav port rail line — a cub was mowed down by a train on the same route last year — has raised questions about the safety of Asiatic lions in the state.
Gujarat houses the last surviving population of Asiatic lions and the state government claims to have done a lot in conserving this endangered species.
The lionesses were hit by a Pipavav Port-bound train between Dehra and Pasada villages in Rajula taluka of Amreli district. The site where the mishap took place is around 35-40 kms from the Gir forest, but the movement of lions is regularly witnessed in the area.
Last year, a cub died in a similar incident on the route. A leopard was also killed in a similar manner on the tracks.
“We have taken the statement of the goods train driver, who said the lions dashed in front of the train and they couldn’t stop it on time,” said divisional forest officer JK Makwana . On reports that the lioness was pregnant, Makwana said he is yet to get the post-mortem report and hence can’t comment.
A couple of lions were mowed down by a train in the Sasan forest area about 15 years ago, following which trains on the rail line were cautioned to move at a slow pace, which resulted in minimising such accidents there.
“We will try to find out solutions to this problem by having consultations with all those involved,” deputy forest officer JK Makwana said.
Villagers who reported the incident blame rampant development in the lion corridor for the accident.
“The area has seen rampant development. Mines and ports have come up. It is home to close to 60 lions and is outside the sanctuary and forest area. This was a tragedy waiting to happen.
Unlike in Gir Sanctuary, the forest officials don’t patrol the area much. If no concrete steps are taken, such incidents will continue to happen,” said Dinesh Goswami of Prakruti Nature Club. He said development in the area will eventually bring the lions in conflict with people.
“There are heavy vehicles including loaders moving in the area. I have personally seen lions close to such areas,” said Mangabhai Thapa — a resident of the village who was among the first to reach the lion accident site.
It should be noted that safety of lions is the primary argument on which the state government has been opposing translocation of the animal to Madhya Pradesh. The state government has often cited MP’s poor record in protecting its own tigers but such accidents may end up weakening the state’s stance.
Chief Wildlife Warden CN Pandey said the incident happened outside the sanctuary and the forest area. “It was revenue land on which the incident happened. We will be having talks with the railways about what can be done to prevent such incidents in the state,” said Pandey. He too agreed that though not a forest area, it is home to several lions.
Goswami said the lions have moved to the coastal areas which have seen rapid development. “There is rampant mining happening there and soon we will see a new sort of conflict. We need to do something before it is too late,” said Goswami.