AHMEDABAD: In the wake of the death of 23 Asiatic lions in Gujarat's Gir forest in the last 20 days, the state government Thursday announced setting up two safari parks near here and in Narmada district to accommodate growing population of big cats.
The government would also shift some of the lions in the upcoming parks, as their population in the Gir sanctuary has gone up to 600, a minister said.
"One such park would come up near the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's upcoming 'Statue of Unity' near Rajpipla town of Narmada district and another one near Ahmedabad," Minister of State for Forest Raman Patkar said at Vapi in Valsad district.
The lion population in Gujarat is 523, as per a 2015 Census.
However, during the recent screening drive being conducted by Forest personnel, a total of 600 big cats were found in the Gir forest in Saurashtra region.
"Lion population is increasing. As per the last Census, there were 523 lions. But now, its more than 600. Thus, we have to provide them new habitat places. We have decided to create a new safari park near the upcoming Statue of Unity in Rajpipla and shift some lions there," Patkar said.
He said the government is also mulling over to to set up another safari park near Ahmedabad.
"This way, we will have two new safari parks," said Patkar.
In addition, people residing near Barda mountain in the eastern side of the Gir Sanctuary will be relocated elsewhere in a bid to provide a permanent habitat to lions, said the minister.
Deaths of 23 lions, all inhibiting in one area in the Gir forest, have been reported since September 12.
Infection caused by Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) and Protozoa is said to be the main reason behind the deaths.
Meanwhile, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani Thursday said in Surat that the lions have died due to a "contagious disease" spread among the big cats after eating "contaminated food".
"Lions belonging to one group got infected with a contagious disease. As per the reports, lions got infected with that disease after consuming some contaminated food. We are taking all necessary steps to save our lions," Rupani told reporters.
Stepping up their efforts to save the remaining lions, including 36 in captivity, senior officials have been deployed in the area to monitor the operations.
The officials include an officer with a rank of Chief Conservator of Forest and a Deputy Conservator of Forest.
"At present, 36 lions, which were rescued during our screening drive, are in our custody and they are doing fine," said Forest department Additional Chief Secretary Rajiv Kumar Gupta.
He said vaccines from the US would be reaching by Friday.
"We will take a call accordingly. As of now, the situation is under control. The screening drive to check health of lions on the outer limits of the Gir forest is still going on," he added.
On Wednesday, the state government had admitted that Canine Distemper Virus and Protozoa infection was responsible for death of at least 11 of 23 lions in Gir forest since September 12.