Gandhinagar: In another startling revelation related to Gir lions, the state government stated in the Assembly on Thursday that 116 lions had died in Gir Sanctuary between January 2007 and January 2010. Of these, 108 are said to have died in the natural course and seven were hunted to death. The sanctuary, in the last census, had reported 359 lions in the forest of which 291 were in the Gir Sanctuary, which makes the figure more alarming. Four lions died in the month of January this year alone.
Replying to a question by Congress's Porbandar MLA, Arjun Modhwadia, the state government said that only one lion had died by falling into an open well, which had become risky for lions in the sanctuary covering 1,450 sq km.
However, former principal chief conservator of forest, GA Patel, said, "The life span of a lion is 15-18 years and if one goes by the maximum age, that is 18 years, then 20 per cent of them die every year. Besides, the survival rate of cubs was very less at 25 per cent hence the death figure of about 55-60 per year, was natural."
A state forest department official told TOI that since the question pertained to the sanctuary, only those specific to the sanctuary were given. The official said that besides the sanctuary, lions were also found in Girnar hills, coastal areas and Bhavnagar. The last census covered all these spots and the latest is due next month.
Forest officials also said that it had increased security cover in the area, initiated new security measures, and security staff and other forest officials have been provided with sophisticated equipment for patrolling in the dense forest areas.
Govt studying lion-tiger exchange proposal: The state government also mentioned that it was studying the proposal by the Centre offering tigers in lieu of lions, for the Kuno Palpur project. Replying to Vagra MLA, Iqbal Patel, the state forest department said, the standing committee of the National Board of Wildlife had on July 17 last year, offered tigers to the state and that the government was still studying the proposal.