New Delhi: More than a fortnight after heavy rains and the ensuing flash floods battered Saurashtra and Amreli district in Gujarat, killing more than 70 people, the flood’s actual toll on wildlife too has come to the fore. According to the details submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change by Gujarat forest department, the floods claimed lives a whopping 1,670 blue bulls (nilgai), 80 spotted deers, around 10 black bucks and even wild boars that all form the prey base of Asiatic lions. The Gujarat forest department had already recorded the deaths of 10 Asiatic lions, exclusively found in Gir forests. The lions had all drowned in the floods, largely around the banks of Shetrunji river, around 40 kms away from the protected area. Even now, the forest department is regularly scanning
At the beginning of July the casualties of blue bulls, the largest Asian antelope, were pegged between 600 and 650. But, the death toll has risen steadily as carcasses of several blue bulls and other mammals were found in a bloated and decomposed state downstream of Shetrunji river and dam. According to wildlife officers of Gujarat forest department, the maximum toll has been recorded outside the Gir forests in those villages that lions use as their corridors.
“The areas around the Shetrunji were the worst affected as the rainfall intensity was heavy in a short period of time. Following continuous rain, the river crossed its danger mark. As a result, the lions and other animals could not make it to safe ground in time and drowned with the force of water,” said SC Pant, principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden, Gujarat.
The mammals, Pant said, faced a similar problem and were swept away in the flash flood. “Ungulates such as blue bulls and spotted deers are usually prone to suffering shocks during natural calamities that may lead to a cardiac arrest. To add to the misery, the floods wreaked havoc and must have swept them away,” Pant added.
The confirmed loss of ten lions is unexpected blow to the famed Gir forests that had in fact recorded a growth in lion population following the latest census carried out this year. From 411 in 2010, the lion population has risen to 523 as per this year’s census. The loss of lions due to the floods have also, once again, brought in the limelight the translocation of lions to Madhya Pradesh, an issue that is still pending in Supreme Court. Environmentalists feel that since the Asiatic lion is exclusively found in Gir, its population should be distributed as a safety net against incidents of such natural calamities.
“Even as of today, our staff is tracking all forest trails to see if the lions are safe. The loss of mammals in large numbers won’t have any adverse impact as such,” Pant added.