Villagers fall prey to India's rescued lions

IT WAS the lion of Biblical times and made frequent appearances in the amphitheatres of Rome. It later became the preferred quarry of British hunters in India. Now, after centuries of persecution, the Asian lion is in danger of extinction.

The conservation programme to save the lion in its last natural stronghold, the Gir Forest of Gujarat, north-west India, could become a victim of its own success. The cat that declined to make a meal of Daniel has taken a renewed interest in human flesh, making it less than popular with the locals.

A survey of villages of the Gir by a team of researchers from Yale University and the Wildlife Institute of India has found a dramatic increase in the number of attacks on humans and domestic animals by the only known wild lion population outside Africa.

The researchers warn that the measures to protect the nearly 300 remaining Asian lions could be undermined by villagers who are tired of having their livestock stolen and of living with the risk of being eaten themselves should they venture out after dark.

Vasant Saberwal, a Yale researcher who helped to conduct the survey with colleague James Gibbs, said feelings are running high: 'At some point there is going to be a backlash against the conservation programme. They will take the matter into their own hands.'

A number of lions have already been killed by locals, one within the conservation area, despite it being a schedule one offence under the Indian Wildlife Act, Mr Saberwal said.

The Asian lion, which is tawnier than its African cousin and has a skin fold on its belly and a less shaggy mane, once roamed an area from central India to Greece. The last recorded sighting outside India was in 1942 in southern Iran, when a solitary individual was seen near the Kharki River.

Captive Asian lions, such as Arfur at London Zoo, who attacked a mentally ill man who climbed into his enclosure on New Year's Eve 1992, are the last refuge for the sub-species outside the Gir. However, genetic analysis has shown that many of these zoo lions are in fact Asian-African hybrids and therefore not suitable for reintroduction into nature reserves.

During nearly 100 years of protection in the Gir Forest the Asian lion has increased from just 18 animals early this century to 284 at the last census, while people in districts adjacent to the forest have increased to about 400,000.

Mr Saberwal said that the forest was probably near to capacity when a severe drought in 1988 forced many lions to forage beyond the conservation area, often choosing livestock as easy prey.

The lions also became increasingly aggressive towards people, with a five-fold increase in attacks on humans, rising from just seven in the nine years prior to 1988 to 38 in the four years after the drought.

Mr Saberwal said there had been seven cases of lions eating people they had attacked since 1988. In the previous decade there had been no such instances. The exact reason for the increased aggression is not fully understood, he said.

'When the lions became more aggressive, many of the villagers began to bring their livestock into their dwellings at night to protect them from lion attacks. I know of at least one instance where a lion jumped on to a roof and broke through to get at cattle inside.'

Interviews with 73 men from 56 villages, most of them headmen, uncovered growing hostility towards the management of the lion reserve and government compensation policies. Mr Saberwal said the Indian government provides 20,000 rupees ( pounds 400) for each human death, which is about a year's salary for an adult male employed outside the village.

'Despite the heavy penalties for killing lions, the villagers may decide because of growing frustration to take matters into their own hands. We are concerned that politicians who have no interest in conservation issues will try to manipulate policy. It would make more sense for the forest department to recognise the problem and make changes.'

Mr Saberwal wants a permanent ban on the practice of lion baiting, where a young animal is tethered to bring out the predator for spectators. This encourages the lion to overcome its natural fear of humans, he said.

The lions should also be tagged to monitor their movements in and out of the forest and young lions which have been forced out of the forest by established adults should be removed to other regions or zoos rather than being taken back into the forest, he said.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary teaching jobs in the Swaffham area

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Are you a fully quali...

Year 1 Teachers needed for day to day roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Primary General Cover Teachers needed

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week