It's a Jungle Out tHere

Asiatic lionAn Asiatic lion crosses a road near Amreli district

In Gujarat, animals and birds are increasingly sighted near human habitats

A flock of lesser flamingos descends on a pool of dirty water in Juhapura, Ahmedabad, their crimson-smeared white wings striking against the muddy brown of the sewage water. This rare migratory bird, which flies to Gujarat every winter†from Central Asia, is spotted regularly in this colony. Chandola lake, in a lower middle-class neighbourhood of Ahmedabad, is another birder's paradise bang in the middle of urban squalor, with cormorants, painted storks and spoonbills making it their home.

In the Gujarat capital, and indeed in other parts of the state, many animals seem to be straying close to human habitats, posing a wildlife conundrum: is it better conservation that is pushing them to cities?

For instance, according to a 2010 census of Asiatic lions, there were 411 lions in the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, the only natural habitat of the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica), spread over 1,412 square kilometres. But forest officers believe that the big cats now roam in an area covering more than 1,800 sq km, spread over four districts of Junagadh, Amreli, Porbandar and Bhavnagar (known as the Gir protected area). A significant portion of this is revenue land (land under the collectorate, meant for use by people). In fact, a few lion prides have settled as far away as 80 km from the border of eastern Gir forests, in Bhavnagar. "Lions roam almost every day in my mango orchard. I believe they come here in search of water and prey," says Sardarsinh Chauhan, a farmer of Lusava Gir village in Talala taluka, bordering Gir West forests.

Forest officers say there are other reasons for the lions to step out of the jungle. "Historically, Asiatic lions were found as far away as Iran and parts of Europe but were reduced to a smaller area due to habitat loss and hunting. Now that their population is growing (the last three censuses have shown a rise in numbers), they are recapturing their lost territory. This is the reason they are seen near human settlements," says Kasuladev Ramesh, deputy conservator of forest of Gir West division.

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