The 13th lion census, or the “lion population estimation” as preferred by the Forest Department, will be held at the only abode of the Asiatic lions — the Gir forests in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat from Saturday.
Principal Secretary to the Forest and Environment Department, S. K. Nanda, and the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Pradeep Khanna, have said that for the first time enumerators would make full use of the latest technological innovations such as the Geographical Information System and the Global Positioning System, besides wireless technologies for proper locational documentation of the animals to minimise any possibility of error in counting.
In addition, efforts would also be made for photographical documentation by using digital cameras provided to sub-zonal officers, besides deploying 50 professional photographers.
Pointing out that the lion population in the 2005 census was put at 359 (plus-minus 10), Mr. Khanna refused to hazard a guess what would the present population be. On an average, 60 to 70 cubs are born while some 30 to 40 lions die natural deaths every year, he said. “So far we have been able to maintain five to 10 per cent growth in the lion population and hopefully it will remain the same this time also.”
He said there had been some incidents of poaching a few years back, but with the increasing vigil and other security measures taken by the State government, poaching had almost stopped in Gir.
An elaborate arrangement had been made for undertaking the census using the “beat verification method” that would involve about 1,600 people and the “pre-census” survey of the likely movements of the lions, possible locations, water sources and other necessary information collected in the last nine months. It would also be for the first time that the entire Gir forest area, including the Gir national park and sanctuary, where the lions were earlier seen to have strayed from the protected zone that falls in four districts, including Junagadh, Amreli, Bhavnagar and Porbandar, would be covered under this census operations, Mr. Nanda said.
The “preliminary census” would be carried out on April 24 and 25 to confirm the locational positions and the final, based on actual viewing of the animals at 642 water spots and other locations identified for the purpose, would be carried out for 24 hours from 2 p.m. on April 26. For the entire period of the final census, all the 450 official enumerators and some 100 volunteers, selected carefully from amongst retired civil servants, former journalists, prominent citizens and wildlife lovers, would be stationed at particular spots with all movements restricted and vehicular traffic completely stopped in the entire forest area.
The government has also appointed five observers to oversee the census operation, including a representative each of the Union Environment and Forest Ministry and the Wild Life Institute of India, Dehra Dun, the chief wildlife warden of the State, the retired principal chief conservator of forests, S.A. Chauhan, and a representative of the animal lovers, he said.