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The curious case of the missing dead: Centre and State’s lion fatality numbers fail to sync

Identical questions asked in Lok Sabha and Gujarat assembly on the same day yield widely differing answers on lion deaths, activists suspect data fudging

Screenshot 2024 02 07 030943AHMEDABAD: The death of dozens of lions every year in Gujarat has been a cause of concern for wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists alike. But now, they are raising a stink over what they perceive to be an attempted cover-up of rising fatalities involving the big cat.

Activists are peeved at the sharp difference between lion deaths reported by the central and state governments, going by which the central authorities seem to be under-counting the number of lion fatalities.

The discrepancy came to light when, on Monday, Union Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change informed the Lok Sabha that 103 lions had died in Gujarat in 2023 and 110 in the year before.

But surprisingly, on the same day, the Gujarat government put the numbers significantly higher — at 122 last year and 117 in 2022.

The query in the Lok Sabha was made by Rajiv Pratap Rudy, while that in the Gujarat Assembly was made by MLA Shailesh Parmar.

According to the reply furnished to Parmar, a total of 239 lions have perished in Gujarat in the last two years, while the number was only 213 according to the Union.

Parthiv Raj Singh Kathwadia, Gujarat Congress spokesperson and an environmental campaigner, accused the government of fudging the data to conceal lion deaths, and called for a scientific probe.

“There should be a scientific inquiry into this gap of communication between the center and the state, or whether the people of India are being deliberately misled about the death of lions,” Kathwadia said.

He expressed concern that much of the progress made in conserving the Asiatic lion — which used to roam most of the Middle East, but is now confined to Gujarat — is being undone.

“Since independence, we have been preserving lions and reaching these numbers, and now we appear to be going back in the same direction.” he added.

A total of 239 lions, including 126 cubs, died in Gujarat in the last two years, and 29 of these fatalities were due to unnatural causes, the legislative assembly was told on Monday.

Forest Minister Mulubhai Bera in a written reply stated: “Of the 239 lion fatalities, 117 were reported in 2022 and 122 in 2023. While 210 lions succumbed to natural causes, 29 fatalities were due to unnatural causes such as the big cats getting hit by vehicles or falling into open wells,”

The data tabled in the Assembly revealed that the number of lions, excluding cubs, dying due to unnatural deaths has doubled over a year.

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