Three persons have been arrested for allegedly harassing lions by chasing them on their vehicles and shooting videos using mobile phones in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in Junagadh district of Gujarat, a forest official said on Saturday.
Out of six persons involved in the incident, the authorities on Friday arrested three accused, who hail from Rajasthan, after videos of the chase surfaced on social media, an official said.
According to forest officials, the videos were most likely recorded two weeks ago in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary near Sasan Gir in Junagadh district.
In a video, some persons can be seen following a pride of lions on two vehicles, with one of them sitting on the bonnet of a four-wheeler. Some of the accused shot videos on their mobile phones while driving dangerously close to the lions on what appeared to be a village road.
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Offences under relevant provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act have been registered against six persons for trespassing and chasing lions, said Aradhana Sahu, the chief conservator of forests of Junagadh wildlife circle.
”Three of the accused were arrested and produced in court, as harassing lions is a non-bailable offence. The arrested accused have been sent to judicial custody,” the official said.
The arrests were made based on videos that went viral and came to the notice of the forest department, she said.
”We had called three of them for inquiry and detained them. They were booked under two offences, one for trespassing and another for chasing lions,” Sahu said.
Chasing or participating in illegal lion shows invites action under the Wildlife Protection Act and the offence is non-bailable, she said.
”It is my appeal to tourists to refrain from trying to see lions illegally or going to forest areas to view them or chase them. People should go on safaris to see lions in parks at Devalia, Gir and Ambardi,” the official said.
In 2021, the forest department had registered an FIR against 12 persons after a viral video showed them gathered to watch an “illegal show”, in which a lion killed and feasted on a cattle tied to a pole at a village in Gir forest of Junagadh.
Gujarat is the only abode of Asiatic lions. As per the 2020 census, there are 674 lions in the state, a 29 per cent rise in its population compared to the 2015 census.
The state has a total of 206 lions, 309 lionesses, 130 cubs and 29 other unidentified big cats.