Asiatic lions are part of Schedule I species in the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, that covers endangered animals. These species need rigorous protection and therefore the harshest penalties are awarded for the violation of law under this Schedule. For the capture of Schedule I species, especially while sending them to a zoo, a written order from a senior forest department official is mandatory, said sources in the department. In this case, due procedures were not followed, they added.
The news of eight lions being captured from the wild spread like wildfire among lion lovers; several representations were made to release them. What perplexed people was the lack of any proper rationale for sending the lions to the zoo. A senior forest department official had told TOI earlier that the lions were captured as a precautionary measure ahead of the local body elections.
The population of lions rose to a robust 674 in Gujarat according to the 2020 census. More than 50% of the lions live outside the protected areas. These regions are called revenue areas and include places such as Jetpur. Hundreds of lions are found in places close to human habitations and it has been proved in various studies that the lions and people outside Gir coexist peacefully.
“Only if a lion has attacked humans can it be sent to a zoo. Here, no such incident was reported,” said a forest department official. “The written order has to specify all such details.” Promoting the human-lion coexistence around/outside Gir areas has remained a part of the state’s wildlife management policy.
Zoos and gene pools in Saurashtra represent more than 18% of the total Asiatic lion population in the wild. Recently, the forest department had set a cage for a leopard, but a lion cub fell into the trap. The department has sent this cub to Sakkarbaug zoo, said an official.