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Friday, June 12, 2020

Poonam Avlokan ! ~ Lions roaring in Gujarat

Heard of – ‘ Poonam Avlokan ? ’.  .. .. according to media reports, this is an exercise  carried out monthly and in-house every full moon. On this day, all the officers and field staff members assess the number of lions for 24 hours across various areas within their respective jurisdictions. The exercise this time in the state of Gujarat  involved around 10 districts where lions have been spotted over the years by 13 forest divisions.

Lions are majestic !  Lions have been admired throughout history for as symbols of courage and strength. These iconic animals have powerful bodies—in the cat family, they’re second in size only to tigers—and roars that can be heard from five miles away. An adult lion’s coat is yellow-gold, and juveniles have some light spots that disappear with age. Only male lions typically boast manes, the impressive fringe of long hair that encircles their heads.

Experts have long recognized two subspecies of lion, Panthera leo leo (the African lion) and Panthera leo persica (the Asiatic lion). However, recent studies suggest that lions from West and Central Africa are more closely related to Asian lions than they are to lions from the eastern and southern parts of Africa, according to the Cat Specialist Group.

The Asiatic lion’s current range is restricted to the Gir National Park and environs in the Indian state of Gujarat. Historically, it inhabited much of Western Asia and the Middle East up to northern India. On the IUCN Red List, it is listed under its former scientific name Panthera leo persica as Endangered because of its small population size and area of occupancy.  The first scientific description of the Asiatic lion was published in 1826 by the Austrian zoologist Johann N. Meyer who named it Felis leo persicus.   Though it lived and was seen in Saudi Arabia,  Turkey, Iran, Mesopotamia, and from east of the Indus River to Bengal and Narmada River in Central India, in the last century it is more restricted to the Gir Forest National Park and surrounding areas.  This lion population has steadily increased since 2010.  The lion is one of five pantherine cats inhabiting India, along with the Bengal tiger (P. tigris tigris), Indian leopard (P. pardus fusca), snow leopard (P. uncia) and clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa).

Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, also known as Sasan Gir, is a forest and wildlife sanctuary near Talala Gir in Gujarat, India. It is located 43 km (27 mi) north-east of Somnath, 65 km (40 mi) south-east of Junagadh and 60 km (37 mi) south-west of Amreli. It was established in 1965, with a total area of 1,412 km2 (545 sq mi), of which 258 km2 (100 sq mi) is fully protected as national park and 1,153 km2 (445 sq mi) as wildlife sanctuary. It is part of the Khathiar-Gir dry deciduous forests ecoregion.  During our visit to this park in Dec 2019, could not spot a single lion though.

The 14th Asiatic Lion Census 2015 was conducted in May 2015 and the lion population  was 523.  The good news of Poonam Avalokan is - Asiatic lions in Gujarat are alive and roaring. The recently concluded ‘poonam avalokan’ or full-moon night observation which replaced Lion Census 2020 due to Covid pandemic in Gujarat has revealed a 29% rise in their population, top sources said. Sources in the know of the counting exercise said observation undertaken on June 5-6 by forest department shows the state is now home to 674 lions, a rise of 151 lions from the count of 523 lions in the census conducted in May, 2015. The official data of the counting exercise is expected to be declared soon.

The distribution range of lions has also expanded to 30,000 sq km, rise of 36% as compared to 22,000 sq km in 2015. Officials said lion population has doubled compared to 2001 while its footprints have expanded by 400%.  “Lions have recorded a healthy growth in population due to effective conservation and management efforts by the state government with support from the Centre,” said a top Govt official.   He added that the forest department had successfully curbed the canine distemper virus (CDV) outbreak in 2018.

PM  Shri Narendra Modi had himself intervened to bring a large number of vaccines from the United States for treatment of CDV. Unlike Africa where 90% of the population was wiped off by the outbreak, Gujarat’s loss was restricted to 36 lion deaths due to CDV, said sources. Since 1968, when 177 lions were counted, the figures have steadily grown. Wildlife experts have pointed out in the past that the state has a robust growth in lion population in Gujarat with many even speculating that their numbers have informally crossed 1,000 mark. Sources said the state now has a healthy' female to male ratio of 1.64.

In Gujarat Lions are healthy and roaring !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
Pics from the tweet of PM Modiji

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