On Wednesday, a male lion that had been camped out for several months close to the coastal Madhavpur village in Porbandar district moved further north and entered the Barda Wildlife Sanctuary (BWLS). It is encouraging for Project Lion, which envisions BWLS as a potential second home for the big cats, that lions have returned to the Barda forest after 143 years.
“The male lion was spotted in the Barda sanctuary and we got a report from our field staff about it at around 9 am today. It was campaigning in the Ratanpar village for some time and moved into the protected forest on its own,” state’s Forest, Environment and Climate Change Minister Mulubhai Bera told to the sources on Thursday.
This is a significant development because the forest department had been preparing Barda for a long time as a potential lion habitat. There is a spotted deer breeding facility there, and the forest now provides enough prey for lions.
The lion, which is about three and a half years old, was radio-tagged in October of last year, according to local forest officers. “This male lion is a member of the coastal population in Junagadh, close to Mangrol. After it began exploring new areas, we tagged it, the officer said.
Parimal Nathwani, a Rajya Sabha member who also serves on the advisory board for Gir National Park and Sanctuary (GNPS), called the progress “phenomenal.” “In the Barda Wildlife Sanctuary, the Asiatic lion, the pride of Gujarat and India, has established a new and secondary home. The lion was last seen in Barda in 1879 AD, according to a formal statement from him.
In the past, much of central and northern India was included in the lions’ natural habitat. By the turn of the 20th century, however, hunting and habitat loss had reduced their range to the Gir forest alone.
To give the critically endangered species a second home, the Supreme Court ordered the translocation of the lions to Kuno-Palpur in Madhya Pradesh in 2013. The Gujarat government has insisted that some studies recommended by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) be carried out first in Kuno, so not a single big cat has been relocated to that state.
In the early 1990s, the lions began leaving the GNPS by migrating along the banks of the River Shetrunji in an easterly direction. They later created territories along the coastlines of the districts of Amreli, Bhavnagar, Gir Somnath, Amreli, and Porbandar. In 2020, there are expected to be 674 lions, and it was discovered that more than half of them have made their homes outside of forest preserves.
The state forest department established a lion gene pool centre at BWLS as part of its lion conservation initiatives. A few lions are kept in captivity in that facility inside the sanctuary. But according to officials, this is the first time in decades that a lion has entered the sanctuary on its own.