As a child, listening to the Panchatantra tale of the lion and the rabbit, I was quite impressed by the clever rabbit which outwitted the greedy lion and tricked it into jumping into a well. Today, however, I realize the importance of each and every species that exist in nature and their contribution to diversity and balance of the ecosystem. It is hence not joy but sadness that comes with the news of two lion cubs which inadvertently fell into open wells in two separate incidents in Gujarat and lost their lives. Asiatic Lions are an endangered species and the loss of two young lives is therefore all the more regrettable.
The first tragic incident was at Mota Pipaliya village of Mahuva taluk in Bhavnagar district; when a five-month old female cub fell into an open well. The animal died, inspite of forest department officials hurrying to rescue it. This is reportedly the first instance of a lion cub drowning in a well in the particular region. For the last 14 years, lions have settled in Mahuva’s Ranigala area having extended their territory outside the Gir sanctuary area.
The second incident occurred in Zujarpur village of Veraval taluk in Gir – Somnath district when a three-month-old male died after falling into a well. These open wells in the 1100 villages in the districts of Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar are proving to be open graves for the lions which inhabit the region.
The last lion census conducted in 2010 showed a total of 411 Asiatic lions in Gir forests and its adjoining areas. However, about 260 lions have died due to unnatural causes in the last five years; 11 of those in the Saurashtra region since January this year.
Lion facts and figures
The Asiatic Lion exists as a single isolated population in India’s Gujarat State. The endemic nature of the species puts it at risk of being wiped out entirely due to epidemics or forest fires. It has been listed as “endangered” on the IUCN red list owing to the population size. Over the past few years when the lion population was slowly increasing towards stability, the lions started expanding their territory in nearby areas surrounding the Gir protected forests and sanctuary. In recent times, lions have been killed due to other unnatural reasons such as being run over by trains passing through their territory and now by falling into wells.
- Lions are the only cats that live in groups, called prides.
- Only male lions boast manes.
- Males defend the pride’s territory. They mark the area with urine, roar threateningly to warn intruders, and chase off animals that intrude on their kingdom; perhaps that gave them the title “King of the jungle”.
- Female lions are the pride’s primary hunters. They often work together to prey upon large mammals.
- After the hunt, the group effort often gives way to fights over the sharing of the kill, with cubs getting least priority. Young lions join the pride hunt only when they are about a year old.
- If required, lions will even hunt alone, and sometimes also steal kills from hyenas or wild dogs.