1. Virus, outdated census method mar Gujarat’s lion numbers

  • What factors are responsible for steady rise in population?

  • How was the census carried out this year? How is it different from previous census?

  • How it was carried out?

  • What are the concerns over the estimates?

UPSC Can list these Questions under

GS paper 3 ( Environmental impact Assessment )

What is the context about?

Census of Asiatic lion was recently conducted by the Gujarat government and the details have been released.

About the lion census:

  • The census is conducted once every five years. This year it was delayed due to lockdowns.
  • The first Lion Census was conducted by the Nawab of Junagadh in 1936; since 1965, the Forest Department has been regularly conducting the Lion Census every five years.
  • The 6th, 8th and 11th Censuses were each delayed by a year, for various reasons.

Key figures this year:

  • 28% rise in population of Lions: Total estimated Lions in Gir region is 674. It was 523 in 2015.
  • 36% Expanse in distribution: Today, Asiatic lions are present in Protected Areas and agro-pastoral landscapes of Saurashtra covering nine districts, over an expanse of about 30,000 sq. km. It was 22,000 sq. km in 2015.

What factors are responsible for steady rise in population?

Over the last several years, the lion population in Gujarat has been steadily rising.

This is powered by:

  • community participation
  • emphasis on technology
  • wildlife healthcare
  • proper habitat management
  • steps to minimise human-lion conflict

How was the census carried out this year? How is it different from previous census?

  • Reduced participation: Every year, the state Forest Department invites NGOs, experts and wildlife enthusiasts to join the Census for transparency and augmenting manpower. But this time, it was not advisable to send so many people inside the forest as the Bronx Zoo in New York had reported a case of transmission of novel coronavirus from a human to a tigress.
  • So, this year, the count was estimated not from a Census, but from a population “observation” exercise called Poonam Avlokan.

How it was carried out?

  • Poonam Avlokan (developed in 2014) is a monthly in-house exercise carried out every full moon.
  • Field staff and officers spend 24 hours assessing the number of lions and their locations in their respective jurisdictions.
  • Unlike previous census, which had nearly 2000 participants, this census had around 1400 staff and a few experts.
  • These staff kept moving in their respective territories and made their estimates based on inputs provided by lion trackers and on chance sightings.

What is Block counting method?

  • India uses this method to estimate the numbers.
  • In this method, census enumerators remain stationed at water points in a given block and estimate abundance of lions in that block, based on direct sighting of lions who need to drink water at least once in 24 hours during the summer.
  • There are inherent issues with this method. So, newer methods should be adopted- such as camera trapping and identifying lions based on permanent marks on their body, and statistical estimates based on the animals’ predatory patterns and numbers of their prey base.

Concerns over the estimates:

Few experts are doubtful about the estimated numbers. They say it could be an overestimation. It is because:

q12 lions were killed in a flash flood in Amreli just a month after the 2015 census.

qMore than two dozen lions in an outbreak of canine distemper virus (CDV) and babesiosis in 2018.

qA babesiosis outbreak was reported this summer too, and around two dozen lions are reported killed.