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The Pioneer, New Delhi, 1st September, 2014

 

The success story of lion conservation in Gir lies in its symbiotic relationship with the local community of Maldharis. A study by the Wildlife Institute of India says that the Maldhari community and lions of Gir co-exist in a win-win situation. A major part of the lion prey base is the livestock of Maldharis, who are allowed free access to forest resources by the forest departments as a balancing act. The WII study, ‘Living with Lions: The Economics of Coexistence in the Gir Forests, India’, done by Y V Jhala, Kaushik Banerjee, Kartikeya Chauhan and Chittranjan V Dave reveals that there had been no attack by the big cats on humans in the past two decades within the area covered in the study. Moreover, the 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 experts have, however, pointed out that they have 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 “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 findings further state 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. WII team has 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.