Posted by: Hitesh Kamaliya on

 Gujarat will start counting the number of lions in the wild on Saturday. And, from all accounts, the results of the census, which will take about a week to tabulate, will bring cheer to Gujarat on its Golden Jubilee.

This census is important as some rare poaching incidents have been reported since the last census five years ago, involving gangs from Madhya Pradesh which wants to rob Gujarat of the tag of being the only place where Asiatic lions roam free.

Almost 10,000 sq km will be combed by over 1,600 officials and volunteers in this once-in-five-year exercise. The last census conducted in 2005 had revealed a lion population of 359. The 2010 census covers a much wider area spread in five Saurashtra districts of Bhavnagar, Junagadh, Amreli, Porbandar and Rajkot.

On Friday, volunteers were issued identity cards and they were introduced to their other beat members. They will fan out at about 2 pm on Saturday and return only after 24 hours. Volunteers will take rest for 24 hours and get back to the count on Monday at about 2 pm only to return on Tuesday afternoon.

The officials also instructed the teams about the angles at which the photographs have to be taken. There would be five members in a team and each team is armed with a camera and a GPS. Keeping in view the scorching heat that enumerators will have to encounter during the lion census, the forest department is taking all precautions. It will include a team of doctors and a constant supply of drinking water, juices and biscuits for the volunteers participating in the event.

The officials said that the department have identified 450 spot after a ninemonth-long survey of the lion movements and sightings. These include s e t t l e m e n t colonies where lions are seen regularly.

"The timing is perfect for the census as visibility in the jungle is high. One can easily see half a kilometre into the jungle. The water holes have shrunk with the onset of summer, making it easy to monitor the movement of the lions," said SK Nanda, principal secretary, forest and environment.

The computer analysis of data will start from April 27 with observers from Wildlife Institute of India, which has drawn up a plan to shift some lions at an alternate habitat in neighbouring MP. Gujarat, obviously, does not want to give up its ‘pride' and officials are confident that the census would only reinforce the lion conservation efforts of the state's forest department in the last 50 years.