Friday, February 12, 2010

Leopards rule in the last abode of Asiatic lions

Hiral Dave
Posted: Friday , Feb 12, 2010 at 0139 hrs

It is known as the last abode of Asiatic Lions. But the most common big cat that can be seen in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in Junagadh and its periphery is leopard.

Shrinking habitat coupled with increasing population of leopard has led to increase in human-animal conflict of late in the area. The most recent incident occurred this Wednesday when two women were killed by a big cat in the coastal area of Veraval.

In another incident reported the same day, a 15-year-old boy was injured by a leopard at Godhara village in Porbandar district. In the recent past, forest officials have been pressed into service on a quite a few occasions either to aid an injured one or trap those that had come close to human habitat.

According to officials at the Sakkarbaug Zoo, on an average, two leopards are brought to the zoo every week after being caught in revenue areas, often injured and sometimes following conflict with humans. Although the zoo is promoted as the breeding centre of Asiatic lions, the number of leopard here stands at 40 against 20 lions.

A top forest official said: “Lions also wander in search of food, but leopard, which is an opportunist hunter, prefers wait for prey. This increases chances of human and leopard conflict.” These big cats generally hide in sugarcane farms and mango farms for days, the official added.

Conservator of forest M M Sharma said the leopard population is increasing due to the efforts of the government and support of the people. He said that “sometimes these conflicts are inevitable”, but this does not mean that such incidents are on the rise. The zoo authorities said that 10 out of the total 40 leopards housed there presently have tested human blood.

The leopard population stood at 155 when the first census was done in the Gir in 1974. In 2000, their population was 311, which increased to 380 in the last census done in 2005.


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