Recently a lioness and her cub were sighted in Kutiyana of Gujarat’s Porbandar district, thereby making it officially the 10th district in the state where the Asiatic lions have marked their presence.
Thanks to the state government’s sustained conservation efforts, in the last 50 years, there has been nearly a five-fold increase in the number of lions in the state — from around 170, all confined to Junagadh district, to over 670 lions as per the latest census. Unofficially, the numbers are pegged at 700 plus.
Till even around 13 years ago, these apex predators – 411 of them according to the 2010 census – moved around in only 3 districts.
Today, the state is home to 674 lions as per the last census, and they have their footprint in almost all the districts of Saurashtra, barring Morbi and Devbhumi Dwarka.
With their population growth pegged at 5% annually, the lion kingdom is only set to expand, experts say. Barring Morbi and Dwarka, all districts of Saurashtra are now populated by lions, which include Junagadh, Amreli, Jamnagar, Porbandar, Gir-Somnath, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Botad, Ahmedabad, and Surendranagar.
This scenario was beyond the scope of imagination for conservationists even a couple of decades ago.
“The big cats have been moving along roads and bridges, slicing and dicing their natural habitat and drawing closer to humans like never before. Porbandar is the 10th district to register the presence of lions,” a senior forest officer said.
In 1968, when the forest department conducted the first census of lions, there were 177, all within the Gir sanctuary. Until the 1990s, they remained within Gir and adjoining areas. In 2013, a sub-adult lion strayed into Kalawad in Jamnagar. Since it was a new territory for the animal, it was rescued and brought back to Gir.
However, in the first week of this month, a radio-collared lioness and a 1-year-old cub were sighted in Porbandar’s Kutiyana for the first time. This lioness had earlier been rescued from Pipavav and released into the wild near Tulsishyam area.
The unofficial 2022 lion count is pegged at 750, though foresters believe the number could be much higher.