Rajkot: The state government’s decision to nearly double the permits for jungle trail in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary from October this year has not gone down well with the forest officials and environment activists. They not only questioned the rationale behind the government’s decision, but also feared that it would disturb the fragile ecosystem of Gir forests, which is the last abode of Asiatic lions in the world.
On Thursday, the state government announced that the number of permits issued for the jungle trail in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, spread over 1,412 sq km area, would be increased to 150 per day from the current 90 per day. Similarly, on festival days and Sundays, the number of permissions have been increased from 150 to 180 per day.

The 25-30km jungle trail includes a three-hour trip into the protected forest in a jeep with maximum six persons. One permit is issued for one jeep. Everyday three such trips are undertaken carrying 540 tourists on eight different routes. With the new government decision, 900 tourists will be taken into the sanctuary along 13 different routes.

According to government officials, the rationale behind increasing the number of permits is to curb illegal lion shows in forest area. However, the forest officials and activists feel that increased human and vehicle traffic in the sanctuary area not only disturb the fragile ecosystem, but also the lions, who are dependent on the same ecosystem.

Assistant conservator of forest (ACF), Sasan, Rajdeep Zala said, “There are touts who cheat people under the pretext of lion sighting. The logic behind the increase in permit is that we can accommodate more tourists so they don’t fall prey to such touts. This will also reduce the harassment to lions.”

A senior forest officer, posted in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, on condition of anonymity said the forest department was under pressure since long to increase the permits in sanctuary area by the tourism department. “Gir is not only about lions. Lions in this forest area can sustain because of its ecology. Increase in movement of vehicles and human interference disturbs the ecosystem and ultimately the lions. Increase in number of permits should not have been allowed,” the forest official said.

Lion expert Priyavrat Gadhvi said, “Gir is facing tremendous pressure in terms of tourism, so we have to understand the viewpoint of forest department. As you increase human interference, the problems also increase. This has to be regulated so that excess human interference doesn’t result into nuisance.”

Environment activist Revtubha Raizada said, “We are facing problem of plastic waste inside the sanctuary and human interference will only increase this. We need to develop the sense of wildlife tourism.”

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