Ahmedabad: Three Asiatic lions, from near Gir National Sanctuary, found to have turned man-eaters, have been sentenced to life within a cage. A fully grown male lion would be kept in a zoo while the other sub-adult females would be sent to a forest rescue centre permanently, an official said on Wednesday.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

“The male lion would be sent to Sakkarbaug Zoo (on the outskirts of Junagadh city) and two lionesses would be locked up in one of the forest department’s rescue centre,” Chief Convervator of Forests, Junagadh Division, AP Singh told reporters.

The forest department officials had laid a trap and captured an entire pride of 17 lions last one month after three persons – a 14-year-old boy, a woman aged around 50 and a 61-year-old man – were mauled to death by the felines in the region between April and May near the Gir sanctuary in Amreli district.

Of the 17 big cats, three were identified as ‘man-eaters’ after a thorough investigation. The forest officials took paw prints of the suspected lions and ordered a laboratory test of their excreta to pinpoint the real culprits.

“After analysing their pug marks and faeces during a 25-day captivity, one adult male and two sub-adult female lions were found to have turned man-eaters, as human remains were found from the excreta of these three,” Singh said. “The male lion attacked, killed and ate up the humans, while the sub-adult females appear to have eaten the leftover body parts.”

“The other 14 lions of the pride, including several cubs, will be released gradually in the (Gir) sanctuary. As a precaution, they will be released in deeper pockets of the sanctuary, far away from where they were captured,” he added.

The key reason for the lions turning man eaters, according to Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife, Jamaal Ahmed Khan, is their increasing dispersal beyond the traditional habitats with the increase in their population.

This is where they come into conflict with human beings in regions, which is replete with social and commercial activities, where there is little or no prey base for the carnivore, he said.

Khan told IANS that the Gir lions are no more restricted in the Gir region within 5 to 6,000 km and have now dispersed to as many as 20,000 sq km covering covering districts of Junagadh, Gir-Somnath, Devbhumi Dwarka, Bhavnagar and Amreli in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat.

According to the 14thAlion census carried out in May last year across 20,000 square km, the population increased from 411 lions in 2010 to 523 in 2015. The census enumerators found that Junagadh, which comprises the Gir region, had maximum number of lions at 268, but the greatest increase in the population was reported from beyond the traditional lion habitats in Amreli district which has 174 lions. And this is where the attacks on humans have occurred.

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Three Asiatic lions turn man-eaters, sentenced to life in a cage