Rise in the Population of Asiatic Lions Census 2020

Recently, the Gujarat Forest Department has announced an increase in the population of Asiatic lions in the Gir forest region.

  • Total 674 lions were recorded compared to the 523 in the Lion Census of 2015.
  • The count was estimated from a population observation exercise called Poonam Avlokan in place of the 15th Lion Census.

    • The 15th lion census was due to be conducted on 5th and 6th June, but was postponed indefinitely due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
    • Poonam Avlokan is a monthly in-house exercise carried out every full moon. It was a mechanism developed by the Forest Department in 2014 as part of preparations for the 2015 Lion Census.

 

Key Points:

Numerical Analysis:
The lion population has grown by almost 29% from the last count in 2015. The lion population in the state of Gujarat has doubled since 2001. Moreover, the distribution of the lions has expanded from 22,000 sq. km in 2015 to 30,000 sq. km in 2020. Thus, the geographical distribution area for Gir forests’ lions has been increased by 36%.

  1. Significance of 2020 Count:
    1. The 2015 Census had counted 523 lions, up from 411 in 2010.
      1. But 12 lions were killed in a flash flood in Amreli just a month after the 2015 Census.
    1. The deaths of lions in 2015 was followed by deaths of more than two dozen lions in an outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) and babesiosis in 2018.

      1. Babesia is a tiny parasite that infects red blood cells and is usually transmitted by a tick bite. Infection with Babesia is called babesiosis.
    1. Additionally, the babesiosis outbreak was also reported in Gir in 2020, and around two dozen lions were reported to be killed.
  2. Reasons for Increase:

    1. Over the last several years, the lion population in Gujarat has been steadily rising.
    1. This increase has been powered by community participation, emphasis on technology, wildlife healthcare, proper habitat management and steps to minimise human-lion conflict.

Regular Lion Census

  • History:

    • The first Lion Census was conducted by the Nawab of Junagadh in 1936.
    • Since 1965, the Forest Department has been regularly conducting the Lion Census every five years.
  • Procedure:

    • Time Period:

      • The regular Lion Census is conducted once every five years. The last Census was conducted in 2015.
      • The Lion Census usually runs for more than two days, including a preliminary census and a final census.
      • However, the Poonam Avlokan is carried out for 24 hours assessing the number of lions and their locations in their respective jurisdictions.
    • Participation:

      • The Forest Department invites NGOs, experts and wildlife enthusiasts to join the Census for transparency and augmenting manpower.
      • Whereas the Poonam Avlokan exercise is conducted only by forest staff.
      • Thus, the Lion Census experiences larger participation of the people compared to the Poonam Avalokan exercise.
    • Methodology Used:

      • The Lion Census is done using the block counting method — in which census enumerators remain stationed at water points in a given block and estimate abundance of lions in that block, based on direct sighting of lions who need to drink water at least once in 24 hours during the summer.
      • Under Poonam Avlokan exercise, the teams keep moving in their respective territories and make their estimates based on inputs provided  by lion trackers and on chance sightings.

Gir National Park

  • The Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the Junagadh district of Gujarat.
  • The Gir Forests is the only natural habitat of Asiatic lions. It was declared as a sanctuary in 1965 and a national park in 1975.
  • Gir is often linked with “Maldharis” who have survived through the ages by having a symbiotic relationship with the lions.

    • Maldharis are religious pastoral communities living in Gir. Their settlements are called “nesses”.

Protection for Asiatic Lions

  • Protection Status:

    • IUCN Red List: Endangered
    • CITES: Appendix I
    • Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972: Schedule I
  • Conservation Efforts:

    • The “Asiatic Lion Conservation Project” has been launched by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
    • The project has been approved for three financial years from 2018 to 2021.
    • The project envisages scientific management with the involvement of communities in coordination with multi-sectoral agencies for disease control and veterinary care for overall conservation of Asiatic lions.
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