Indian police send in lions to deal with bandit problem

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Police in India say they have come up with a new weapon against the bandits who plague large areas of the country: lions. Police in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) are seriously proposing that a new lion safari park will help rid the area of bandits.

But Indian wildlife groups are warning that the bandits will kill the lions to sell their skins. The proposal comes months after it emerged that India's natural tiger population has been sharply reduced by poachers.

Uttar Pradesh is particularly notorious for dacoits, as bandits are known in India. The eastern areas of the state are in effect off limits to drivers with more expensive vehicles because of the number of car jackings.

The state is known for kidnappings as well. In the area around the Chambal ravines, where the authorities want to set up their lion park, there have been 4,000 kidnappings over the past five years. Those who are kidnapped are held for ransom. If the money is not paid, the victim may be killed.

Police in these remote rural areas are often forced to patrol like soldiers, armed with military assault rifles. Now they are suggesting lions may be the answer.

"Not that the lions will be chasing the bandits, but the area will soon have a lot of movement by tourists and officials and will be lit up brightly. This will force the dacoits to flee," Daljit Singh Chaudhary, a senior police official, told reporters.

The UP state government wants support for its proposed 371-acre safari park for lions in the Chambal ravines. The aim of the park is to attract tourists.

Although lions are generally thought of as African, a sub-species once roamed much of Asia, as far west as the Mediterranean. Today there is just one population of Asiatic lions left in the wild, in Gujarat in India.

The proposed safari park is not an attempt to reintroduce lions to the wild and they will be fed by park officials. The UP government is asking Indian zoos to donate captive Asiatic lions.

But wildlife groups say the proposal is disastrous. "The lions will be used for target practice by Chambal's not-so-nice residents," Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India said. "It will be a waste of money... it will never take off."

It emerged earlier this year that the entire wild tiger population of a major reserve in India had disappeared. They were believed to have been killed by poachers for their skins.