A lioness and her cub at Gir. Photo: Ivy Dey/Wikimedia Commons.
New Delhi: A trial court in Gujarat’s Gir-Somnath district convicted seven men for harassing an Asiatic lion during an illegal lion show in the Babariya range of Gir (west) wildlife division in 2018, the Indian Express has reportedd.
The court sentenced six of them to three years imprisonment, one person was sent to a one-year jail term and a fine of Rs 10,000 was imposed on each of them.
Sunilkumar Dave, judicial magistrate (first class) of Gir Gadhda, pronounced seven persons guilty under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 Sections 2(16)(b), 2(36), 9, 27, 39, 51 and 52, dealing with hunting of wild animals included on Schedule-I of the Act and illegally entering protected wildlife habitat.
Seven accused who were convicted were Iliya Hoth, Ravi Patadiya, Divyang Gajjar, Rathin Patel, Abbas Ringbloch, Mangilal Meena and Altaf Bloch. Of them, Iliya, Pataidya, Gajjar, Patel, Ringblock and Altaf were sentenced to three years of rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs 10,000 each, while Meena was sentenced to one year of rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs 10,000. The court also acquitted one Hasam Kareja for lack of evidence.
The court ordered that, of the total fine collected, Rs 35,000 was to be paid to the state government as compensation and directed range forest officer of Babariya to deposit this money in a lion welfare fund.
As per the report in the national daily, Iliya, a resident of a forest settlement plot Dhrubakvadi inside Gir (west) wildlife division, had invited Patadiya, Gajjar, Patel and Meena to his agricultural field to watch lions for a payment of Rs 6,000. Ringbloch and Altaf brought a live chicken to the farm on their bike to dangle the bird as a bait to an Asiatic lion, while Kareja abetted the crime.
“The court has treating baiting of lion on par with lion hunting and convicted the accused. This verdict is a result of meticulous investigation by and hard work of our field staff,” Dheeraj Mittal, deputy conservator of forests (DCF) of Gir (west) wildlife division, said.
The accused had reportedly assembled on Iliya’s farm inside the Gir forest, baited a lion with a live chicken to show it to the four tourists for money and recorded videos of the act on their mobile phones on the night of May 18, 2018. However, they were caught by a team of officers of Babariya range forest.
According to a Times of India report, Hoth had called other accused persons to witness the lion show while Abbas Ringbloch had arranged for chickens to lure the lions. The video of the illegal lion show had also gone viral on social media.
In the video, a man can be seen luring a lioness by dangling a chicken back and forth before her. He then allowes her to snatch the chicken and run away. The video led to an uproar among wildlife activists regarding human-animal conflict in a region where lions are present in huge numbers in proximity to human settlements.
“The forest department made a CD of the videos and sent it for forensic analysis and found the videos were genuine. This proved to be clinching evidence against the accused,” Ajay Talavia, assistant public prosecutor (APP) of Gir Gadhda, told the Indian Express.
Iliyas’ grandfather had been allotted the forest land in Dhrubak by the forest department for farming and Ringbloch, Altaf and Kareja were Ilyas’ relatives who helped cultivate that land, Talavia said.
The court also declared null and void the allotment of the land in Dhumbak area to Iliyas’ forefathers and directed the district collector to take possession of the land where the lion show was organised on the night of May 18, 2018. “Collector of Gir Somnath is hereby directed to cancel all permissions and approvals to the said land, take possession of the said land, confiscate it and report back to this court in a month’s time,” magistrate Dave wrote in his judgement.
After the court pronounced them guilty, six of those convicted sought a stay on the operation of the sentence so that they could appeal against the trial court verdict. “However, Iliyas did not sought stay on operation of sentence and therefore, he remains in judicial custody,” Talavia said.
Previously, several media reports have indicated that illegal lion shows continue unabated in private set-ups and local villagers, as well as resort managers, are involved in carrying out such shows. Several individual operators in areas surrounding the Gir forest arrange illegal lion shows. “Since surveillance has been stepped up, a show would involve greater risks. I will manage it, but there is a possibility that if caught, the car being used will be confiscated and a fine of up to Rs 60,000 may be levied,” the manager of a resort in Dudhala said in 2018.
In recent years, animal rights activists have also doubled down on efforts to institute a complete ban on the use of animals in circuses. As The Wire has previously reported, in December 2020, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) cancelled the registrations of five circuses after a petition was filed by the Federation for Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) in the Delhi high court, claiming these circuses were still using animals and that, in some cases, they had been abandoned because of the lockdown.
In India, the animals which are still used in entertainment include elephants, bullocks, dogs and birds. While elephants have long been used in circuses, many countries have banned the practice altogether owing to the appalling conditions in which they are often trained. Close to 3,500 captive elephants are still used in religious ceremonies and for tourist rides in temples and forts in India.