Police have captured 17 male suspects that are wanted in connection for the murder of three in Gujarat, India. If any one is found guilty, he will be handed a sentence to life imprisonment. Well, at least a kind of prison: a zoo. And the suspects? All Asiatic lions.
Authorities in the arid western Indian state of Gujarat took an unusual step in capturing and detaining an entire pride of 17 Asiatic lions. After investigating a rare number of deadly lion attacks, the authorities took it upon themselves to capture the entire pride and send their excrements to a forensic laboratory to be tested for traces of human remains.
When the test results returned, primarily in the form of strands of human hair, the results pointed directly to one adult male in particular. This lion was immediately given a life sentence of imprisonment – in a zoo.
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Analysis reveals lion at fault
“The scat analysis, that is, an analysis of lion excreta, has shown remains of human hair and tissue in at least one of the lions captures,” said Uday Vora, the state’s forest conservator. “This lion has been isolated and will be kept in isolation in captivity forever.”
Vora continued to say that even with this discovery of human tissue, the lion will be undergoing further testing to establish whether it deliberately attacked humans.
Forestry officials have undertaken a “massive” awareness drive to warn people living in villages about the lions, telling them not to sleep in open fields, among other things.
Two other subordinate lions are being tested for a second time, as results weren’t so clear-cut. These lions will be “given a fair trial and remain under close observation for some time,” said Anirudh Pratap Singh, the chief conservator of the forests in the Junagadh Wildlife Center, close to where the killings occurred.
If found innocent, the rest of the lion pride will be released back into the wild.
Asiatic lion a highly endangered species
Asiatic lions are an endangered species, and their populations has gradually dwindled as more and more human settlements encroach on its remaining natural habitat. As humans continue to develop the land which the lions call their home, humans and lions are more and more likely to come into contact with one another, leading to increased killings that go both ways.
A theory as to why the lions attacked has to do with the current heatwave in the state; laborers have become more likely to sleep in the open air, under blankets, and lions may have mistakenly assumed them to be buffalo calves. Another theory is that when officials captured an adult male believed to be the pride leader and killer, the group dynamics of the pride led the subordinate lions to attack humans.
Wildlife experts have said that lion attacks have increased because of a rise in human population blocking the lions’ natural corridors – the routes by which lions move from one area to another in search of food.
“The government needs to come up with a long-term plan to open these blocked corridors to stop human-animal conflict,” independent expert Divyabhanu Singh said.
Approximately only 400 Asiatic lions are left in the wild, and they are the only lion population that exists in the wild outside of Africa. Wildlife officials in India have said that Gir National Park, where the large majority of these lions live, can only host 270 of them. This, in turn, leads to prides of lions that venture outside its protected boundaries.