In land of Asiatic lions, are tigers making a comeback?
Ahmedabad, Feb 11: More than two decades after a tiger was last sighted in the state, the Royal Bengal Tiger seems to have made a comeback in Gujarat.
A local government school teacher Mahesh Mahera on Sunday claimed he saw a tiger crossing a road near Boriya village in Mahisagar, over 120 kilometres from Ahmedabad, on February 6 and clicked its picture on his mobile phone and shared it with friends on social media platforms.
The photo soon went viral and alerted the state's forest department on the unlikely presence of a tiger in the area.
Tigers were found in abundance in Gujarat from Valsad to Banaskantha till the 1950s, but they completely vanished from the state by 1997.
Hunt on to nab the big cat
Acting on Mahera's claims, the forest department set up two camera traps and deployed staff to confirm the big cat's presence, a senior official said.
"The photo of the tiger has gone viral and we can't yet say if it is fake. Since a citizen has claimed this, we have begun scanning the area. We have placed two camera traps and the number will be increased," Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Akshay Saxena said.
"Our staff is trying to locate pug marks and scat (excreta). There is no evidence yet of the tiger in the area," he added.
"Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are 100 kilometres away. It is surprising if a big cat arrived here without anyone getting to know. We are trying to check and confirm what direct or indirect evidence there could be," Saxena said.
Mahera claimed he spotted the tiger when he was returning from school on February 6 evening.
"Around 5:15 pm on February 6, I was passing through the area in a four-wheeler when I spotted a tiger emerging from one side of the road and crossing over to the other side. I stopped the car and I clicked its picture. It clearly shows it is a tiger," he said.
Gujarat reluctant to swap its Lions with Tigers
Observing that Gujarat was the only state in the western region not having any tigers, then the Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had suggested that the state should explore the possibility of introducing tigers.
However, Gujarat is averse to the idea of exchanging Asiatic lions with tigers.
Desperate to hold on to its monopoly on the last Asiatic lion habitat in the world, Gujarat has been refusing to share its "pride" with Madhya Pradesh or any other state.
As per the National Tiger Conservation Authority, tigers are found in the wild in 18 Indian states, Gujarat not being among them.
When Gujarat faced flack for 23 Asiatic Lions death
Last year in September Gujarat forest department was at the receiving end of a lot of flak because 23 Asiatic lions had died in the Gir forest owing to a canine distemper virus (CDV) epidemic.
Madhya Pradesh government has been fighting with the Gujarat government for shifting of lions to its state as a second home for the wild cats. However, the order hasn't been implemented by the latter since the judgement was passed in 2013.