Even as death of big cats continue in Gujarat, the state government said in the assembly that nearly 80 per cent of sanctioned permanent posts for doctors in wildlife care centres are vacant.
Though the state forest and wildlife department claims it is taking measures, including recruiting veterinary doctors, to curb the increase in the number of leopards and lions dying due to unnatural causes, the reality is something else.
In response to a question posed by Congress MLA from Vansda, Anantkumar Patel, the data showed that as of December 31, 2023, 14 of the 18 sanctioned permanent posts of doctors at wildlife care centres are vacant. These include centres at Bhavnagar, Junagadh, Gir Somnath and Amreli.
However, the state has employed 13 other veterinary doctors on contractual basis. These include five in Junagadh, two each in Bhavnagar and Gir Somnath and one each in Porbandar, Morbi, Amreli and Banaskantha.
The data also revealed that while more leopards are dying due to unnatural causes, leopard cubs dying due to natural causes have nearly doubled in a year.
While Patel sought to know why veterinary officers are being appointed on contractual basis without filling up the permanent posts, no specific reply was given except for the department stating the “till the veterinary officer (veterinary medical officer) Class 2 direct recruitment process is completed, the posts are filled on contract-basis, keeping in mind the importance of the work of rescue, treatment, maintenance, etc”.
Responding to a starred question posed by Congress’ Danilimda MLA Shailesh Parmar about deaths of lions, leopards and their cubs, the data revealed that while 27 leopard cubs died due to natural causes in 2022, the toll rose to 52 till December 31, 2023.
On the other hand, against 100 leopard deaths due to natural causes in 2022, the figure has seen a marginal decline to 93 in 2023.
However, deaths of leopards due to unnatural causes rose to 59 in 2023 (as of December 31) compared to 42 such deaths in 2022. Lion deaths due to unnatural causes, too, have gone up – from seven in 2022 to 14 as on December 31, 2023.
The government, listing the various measures it is undertaking to curb unnatural deaths of the animal, stated that it has “appointed veterinary officers for emergency treatment of wildlife animals such as lions in case of illness”.
The reply to another of Patel’s questions on utilisation of forest department’s budgetary allocation, shows utilisation of around 72-76 per cent of the funds in 2021-22 and 2022-23, until December 31, 2023. According to the department, reasons for non-utilisation of funds include “non-completion of recruitment process” of deputy section officer and office assistants in the two financial years.
Meanwhile, in response to a question posed by BJP’s Dhari MLA Jaysukhbhai Kakadiya on the expenses incurred in the last two years to develop tourist facilities at Ambardi lion safari park, the department said it has spent Rs 15.71 crore in two phases till December 31, 2023, including installing “sculptures of various animals”, 3D murals and line sculptures and interpretation centre, among others, at the park.