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The co-existence of Gir's lions and maldharis

  Times of India, Delhi, 26th August 2014

 

The secret why lions have been flourishing in Gir has finally been decoded. Wildlife experts have found that it is the generosity of maldharis, who do not grudge the big cats preying on their cattle, deserve to be given credit for the steady growth in population of the Asiatic lions. A study by YV Zala of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and his team says that the maldhari communities and lions of Gir co-exist in a win-win situation. A major part of the lion prey base is the livestock of maldharis while the community gains from free access to forest resources. The WII study, 'Living with Lions: The Economics of Coexistence in the Gir Forests, India', done by Kaushik Banerjee, Yadvendradev V Jhala, Kartikeya Chauhan and Chittranjan V Dave reveals that Gir maldharis do not view lions as a threat.

 

There had been no attack by the big cats on humans in the past two decades within the area covered in the study. Moreover, lions had attacked and killed mainly unproductive cattle (such as bulls, ailing calves, aged, and dying cattle) for food. The study further states that the average annual financial loss per household for maldharis because of livestock lost to lions (after excluding compensation) was minimal (Rs 2,038). But the free grazing rights and the compensation at current rates were additional profits for maldhari families living inside Gir. The profit is approximately equivalent to a person's annual minimal wage for 213 man days.

 

The report further states that the study had not taken into consideration the additional benefits maldharis get by living inside Gir. These benefits include collection of fuel wood and minor forest products, use of forest topsoil mixed with dung sold as manure, free access to water, job opportunities with the forest department and maintaining their social customs. The study reveals that the total revenue loss because of hunting by lions came to Rs 3.56 lakh per 100 live stock (in cases where government pays compensation. Where no compensation was paid, the loss was Rs 6.19 lakh). The study further states that a family which had 100 heads of livestock annual made Rs 11.04 lakh per annum because it lived with lions.

 

This was only where compensation was paid for livestock lost to the big cats. Where compensation was not paid, a family made Rs 8.40 lakh per annum. Zala and his team have recommended that if removal of livestock is ever contemplated, it should be done in a phased manner so the natural prey base of the lions can be built up. However, removal of livestock was unlikely to be fully compensated by any increase in wild ungulate biomass. With a lion-focused conservation policy for Gir, maintaining livestock at the current levels or lower stock density could also be considered as an alternative management practice.