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    Gujarat: With 35 deaths in 3 months, govt launches plan to conserve Asiatic lions

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    Ahmedabad, Dec 22: The Gujarat government has launched the 'Asiatic Lion Conservation Project' with an aim to protect and conserve the world's last ranging free population of Asiatic Lion and its associated ecosystem.

    The decision came two days after three asiatic lions were run over by a goods train in Gir. So far, 35 lions have lost their lives due to various reasons.

    Asiatic Lions

    Union Environment Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said that the project will strengthen the ongoing measures for conservation and recovery of Asiatic Lion with the help of state-of-the-art techniques/ instruments, regular scientific research studies, disease management, Modern surveillance/ patrolling techniques.

    He added that the total budget of the project for three years that amounts to nearly Rs 9,784 lakh will be funded from the Centrally Sponsored Scheme- Development of Wildlife Habitat (CSS-DWH) with the contributing ratio being 60:40 of Central and State share.

    Also Read Lion Death: What ails the pride of Gujarat's Gir?

    Gir forest, which is home to Asiatic lions have seen a large number of lion deaths over the past three months. Besides territorial infighting among other big cats, so far, 35 lions have lost their lives to Canine Distemper Virus and Protozoa infections.

    Fearing that the same fate as that of the Serengeti National Park might await the lions of Gir forest, several experts have opined that it is best to move the lions to other habitats. CVD is the same virus which killed 1,000 Lions at Tanzania's Serengeti National Park in 1994.

    For the conservation of Asiatic lions, the Gujarat government has announced a package of Rs 351-crore in late November, which includes several new initiatives. The initiatives include building a state-of-the-art veterinary hospital in Sasan-Gir and creating a team of 120 veterinary doctors to treat lions and other wildlife.

    Also Read Gir Lion deaths: Is it time to find a second home for Asiatic lions?

    Drones will be deployed to keep an eye on lions' movements, Rs 80 crore will be spent on building as many as eight new rescue centres, 33 Rapid Response Teams will be deployed in the forest and 100 'trackers' will be recruited to keep a watch over the lions, Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava said.

    Lions death in numbers

    Earlier this year, on March 2018, the Gujarat Assembly, after being informed by State Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava, announced that 32 Asiatic Lions died due to "unnatural causes" in and around Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, over the last two years. These unnatural causes include falling into the well and being hit or run over by train. A total of 184 Asiatic lions died in 2016 -17, wherein 104 deaths occurred in 2016 and 80 deaths in 2017.

    2013 SC order

    In April 2013, Supreme Court ordered the shifting of limited Asiatic Lions from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh's Kuno Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary. It directed a 12-member expert committee to implement its order.

    The court said that these lions are endangered species, and all efforts should be made to preserve them including their translocation in limited number to MP. However even years after this order by SC the translocation is delayed.

    Asiatic lions that once ranged from Persia (Iran) to Palamau in Eastern India were almost driven to extinction by indiscriminate hunting and habitat loss.

    A single population of fewer than 50 lions persisted in the Gir forests of Gujarat by late 1890s. With timely and stringent protection offered by the State Government and the Centre, Asiatic lions have increased to the current population of over 500 numbers.

    The last census in the year 2015 showed the population of 523 Asiatic Lions in Gir Protected Area Network of 1648.79 square kilometres that includes Gir National Park.

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