Villagers were in for a surprise on Saturday when two Asiatic lions were spotted in Gundala (Jas) village in Vinchhiya taluka of Rajkot district. The village is around 100 km away from the any known lion habitat but forest officers said the animals spotted were part of a group of three males in search of new territory.
The lions were spotted by farmer Bharat Baraiya who was on his way through Takol to his farm around 10pm. He informed Bharat Kumarkhaniya who owns a farm nearby and raises buffaloes. “I became vigilant after information on the presence of lions near my farm. After Valku Khachar, village sarpanch Bharat Jejariya and Bholabhai Jejariya arrived at the spot, we launched a search in the area Baraiya mentioned. Within 100 metres of my cottage, we saw two lions sitting on the middle of a road,” Kumarkhaniya told The Indian Express on Sunday.
Khachar is a guard at Hingolgadh Nature Education Sanctuary (HNES), which shares its border with Gundala (Jas) village, while Bholabhai is a wildlife enthusiast and a snake rescue expert. Both of them are residents of Gundala (Jas) village.
“One of the lions had a mane. As more people gathered, both the animals started walking down the road leading to Pochipati and eventually disappeared into the bushes,” Bholabhai said. Pochipati is a cluster of agricultural fields on the east of Gundala (Jas) village.
After it was confirmed that the lions were in the vicinity, Khachar raised an alarm and asked farmers in the area to shift their livestock into sheds and light fires on their fields to keep the carnivores at bay. “The present generation has never seen a lion in their village. So some villagers were excited to catch a glimpse of the big cats while others were frightened. As a precautionary measure, we also advised farmers to remain indoors and avoid going out to their fields,” Khachar said.
By 11.30 pm, the word spread in the village and people gathered at Mavjibhai Kateshiya's farm where the lions were found last. “I was very frightened that lions were in my farm. I was worried about the safety of my family and a few buffaloes that we rear. I kept a fire in the front yard of my cottage throughout night,” Kateshiya said.
By 2.10 am, the lions reached the neighbouring Chhasiya village, around four kilometres away. “We got information that the lions had preyed on a buffalo calf on an agricultural field downstream Dharai dam. The farmers raised an alarm when the carnivores retreated. We went there and saw the kill but couldn't spot the lions,” Khachar said.
Gundala (Jas) is around 100 km away from Liliya in Amreli district, which is the nearest known habitat of Asiatic lions. It is for the first time that lions have been spotted in this village, which is 80 km east of Rajkot city. Located on the banks of Goma river, the village is surrounded by hillocks with the HNES on its southern border. Due to good rainfall this monsoon, there is much vegetation along banks of the river.
Confirming the presence of lions in the area, Sandeep Kumar, incharge deputy conservator of forests of Morbi division, said, “Two days ago, this group of three male lions were spotted in Ambardi village near Jasdan where they made a kill. The same lions have moved towards Vinc-hhiya. This group has come from Babra (in neighbouring Amreli district) in search of new territory.” Gundala (Jas) falls in Jasdan range of Morbi forest division.
Meanwhile, one lion was reportedly spotted in Shivrajpur, a village adjacent to Ambardi. “It is a group of one fully grown up male and two sub-adult males,” Kumar further said, adding an alliance of three males was not uncommon.
“One group visited Jasdan in 2007. Another was reported to have visited Ambardi three years ago. This is part of the natural process of lions extending their territory,” said the DCF, adding local forest staff was keeping an eye on the movement of the lions in Vinchhiya taluka.
HNES is home to a healthy population of blue bulls, the antelopes which form the main prey-base of Asiatic lions outside Gir forest. Asiatic lions are an endangered species and its only wild population in the world is surviving in Gir forest and other protected areas spread across Amreli, Junagadh, Gir Somnath and Bhavnagar districts. Lions were restricted to Gir National Park and Sanctuary only till early 1990s. However, since then, they have been dispersing from the core Gir forest and settling in revenue areas of Amreli and Bha-vnagar districts and DCF Kumar said sighting of two males in Vinchhiya indicated that they are now spreading to new territories.
Lioness attacks cattle herder
A maldhari (cattle herder) was injured after being attacked by a lioness near Dodhi Nes in Hadala range of Gir (east) forest dvision on Sunday. Forest officers said, Kalu Mori (35) was grazing his cattle when a lioness, believed to be five to nine years old, attacked him. Mori sustained injuries and was rushed to a hospital in Una from where he was referred to Junagadh. Forest officers said a search was on to rescue the lioness.