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Every year in Gujarat’s Gir forest, the last abode in the world for Asiatic lions, the Gujarat forest department conducts a census of herbivores.
This year, it is of particular significance because this happens to be the last Herbivore Census before next year’s Lion Census, which is conducted once in five years.
Wild ungulates like spotted deer, blue bulls (nilgais), sambars, Indian gazelles (chinkaras), four-horned antelopes (choshinga) and wild boars are covered under the census. Indian langurs and peafowl are also counted, said a report by The Indian Express.
Langurs and wild ungulates comprise the main prey of Asiatic lions.
Asiatic lions’ only wild population in the world is surviving in 22,000 square kilometres in the greater Gir area spread across Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts in Saurashtra region of Gujarat.
The number of ungulates gives an idea to the forest department about the availability of the prey-base for predators like lions, leopards, hyenas, wolves etc.
If there are changes in the food availability for lions, this count helps the forest department to notice that. Further, the count indicates the health of fauna in particular and that of the forest in general.
Interestingly, a strong base of ungulates can reduce the man-animal conflict by reducing depredation of livestock by lions within Gir forest, and also on the periphery of the forest.
The population of herbivores in Gir forest has been on the rise since 1974.
The population of ungulates in 2013 was estimated to be 1,26,893 or 76.49 animals per square kilometres, translating to 8000 kg of biomass available to carnivorous. This was very close to the levels in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. In 2010, the population of ungulates was 1,07,172.
In deciduous and dry tropical forests like Gir, foliage comes down to its minimum levels during summer. This creates an opportunity to spot the maximum number of animals in the forest.
Availability of surface water, during this time of the year, significantly reduces. As a consequence, animals tend to gather around water points, over 450 of which are artificial and filled up by the forest department.
These water points mainly being located along forest tracks, forest staff find it easy to access areas which have a higher concentration of wild animals.
The Gir Forest is generally divided into 19 routes and forest divisions. The teams, which depend mainly on direct sighting of wild animals, transact routes thrice — morning, afternoon and evening.
For collecting sample data, field trips are conducted for two days, and the results are announced after the data is analysed.
The lion census will be conducted in May next year.
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