Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Of Lions, Herders and Conservationists: Brief Notes on the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat (Western India)

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Of Lions, Herders and Conservationists: Brief Notes on the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat (Western India)

Article excerpt


Conflicts between pastoral nomads and protectionists and the various attempts undertaken in recent years to solve these have been widely described and analysed for East Africa. The claim that grazing by nomadic herds leads to competition between domesticated and wild ungulates over fodder, the extraction of forest produce and the felling of trees has more often than hot led to the expulsion of pastoral peoples from `protected areas' and/or to their resettlement elsewhere. Understandably enough, where large carnivores pose a threat to pastoral herds and their owners, herders try to reduce the number of these predators. In South Asia, as in other parts of file world, such conflicts between protectionists and pastoralists (Rao and Casmir forthcoming) have taken place when protected areas have been created.

In this paper I shall briefly examine one such natural reserve in South Asia, where conflicts between transhumants, mainly sheep herders, and local government forest departments (e.g. Kavoori 1996) are on the increase. I focus on the situation of the Maldhari, buffalo and cow-breeding herders of the Gir forest in the state of Gujarat in an arid region of western India. The Maldhari are confronted by a dual problem: their expulsion from their forest pasture lands and the growing number of attacks from the Asiatic lion, for whose protection a sanctuary and the Gir Forest National Park within it were established (see Map 1).

The Gir Forest Protected Area

In the 1970s various wildlife organisations rightly decided to protect the last extant population of the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) by creating a sanctuary. In 1893 only eighteen animals of this subspecies, which was commonly found from northern Greece through most parts of western and central Asia, were found to survive. Thanks to the strict protection given to it, first by the local royalty (i.e. the Nawab of Junagadh) (1) and then by the Gujarat Forest Department, its population rose to about 200 in 1938 (Rangarajan 2001: 417) and then to 284 by 1990, with a density of one animal per 5-7 [km.sup.2] (Saberwal et al. 1994: 503, see. also Dasgupta 1999).

Located in the western part of the Indian state of Gujarat and covering a total forest area of 1,882.64 [km.sup.2] (Choudhary 2000: 2,662, Saberwal et al. 1994), the Gir Protected Area was created in 1965. Including a sanctuary of 1,153 [km.sup.2], it comprised various reserved forests which had been notified since 1882. This sanctuary was expanded in 1974, and in 1975 the Gir National Park of 259 [km.sup.2], was constituted in the middle of the sanctuary (see Figure 1). The terrain is rugged, hilly (at altitudes between 152 and 530 meters above sea level) and paleotropical, with dry deciduous and thorn forest as well as shrub land and some wetland biomes. There are eighty-one common tree species, dominated in some parts by teak (Tectona grandis), forty-eight species of herbs and shrubs, and fifteen species of grasses (Rodgers and Pawar 1988, in Narayan 1996: 214). Due mainly to past incidents of logging, grazing and fire, many parts of the forest have changed their original composition of plant cover, and today thorny and poisonous plants dominate in many parts (for details see Narayan 1996: 213-14).


The last `Working plan for the Gir Forest' was formulated in 1975 and was applicable from 1976 to 1985. The central objectives of the management of the protected area were (cited in Narayan 1996: 220-21):

1. Conservation of the Gir habitat and improvement of its quality.

2. Conservation of the lion and all other wildlife.

3. Minimising human interference and removal of ecological imbalance.

4. Improving its aesthetic and recreational value for tourism.

5. Consistent with the above, meeting local demands for timber, firewood and grass to the extent possible.

6. Initiating research and education in wildlife management. …

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