A tiger has been sighted for the first time in 27 years in the Indian state of Gujarat, the last place on Earth still home to Asiatic lions.
The region’s forest conservation chief hailed the discovery, and said it made Gujarat the only state “to have the lion, tiger and leopard”.
Officials in the northwest Indian province confirmed on Wednesday the presence of the adult tiger in a forest in Panchmahal district. Days earlier, a teacher on his way to work sparked excitement when he photographed the animal crossing a road.
RM Parmar, the official in charge of the search mission, said the tiger, which he estimated to be five to seven years old, was also spotted by nightvision cameras on Tuesday morning.
The forest minister for Gujarat, Ganpat Vasava, told the Times of India they welcomed the tiger’s presence and would consider developing a corridor to allow the animals better access.
“With the sighting of the tiger, Gujarat is now the only state in the country to have the lion, tiger and leopard,” said Dr AK Saxena, Gujarat’s chief of forest conservation.
He told The Independent locals had reported seeing a tiger over the past few months, but until now its presence had remained unconfirmed.
“This certainly is a surprise for us, but not very surprising because the animals do not know the state boundaries,” he said.
Dr Saxena said despite the three big cats’ presence in the state, there was “no chance” of tigers coming into contact with the native lion population, which is now restricted to the Gir National Park.
The national park, in the state’s west, is also home to most of Gujarat’s leopards, whereas Panchmahal is hundreds of miles to the east.
“The two are separated by a huge distance and by many many barriers … so there is no chance (of them meeting) unless they decide to fly,” Dr Saxena said.
If the authorities are able to confirm the existence of more tigers in the state, a scenario Dr Saxena would not rule out, a “new chapter in wildlife management will emerge”.
Fewer than 4,000 tigers are thought to remain in the wild in India. That is far more, however, than the 500 or so last Asiatic lions, according to the latest figures.
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