Source AP ©

Government in western Indian state ups security for Asiatic lions after poaching deaths

A state in western India has announced plans to beef up security at a sanctuary for rare Asiatic lions after 13 poaching deaths over the past two months raised fears for the future of the species.

The western Indian state of Gujarat said Sunday it will dedicate 400 million rupees (US$9 million, EUR6.7 million) to protect the cats in Gir National Park with more guards and advanced security equipment.

Asiatic lions once roamed much of Asia but only about 350 remain, all of them in Gujarat state. Their claws and bones are all highly prized in Chinese medicine. The claws are also sometimes used for amulets in India, according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India.

The lions often cross the park's boundaries to find food and water and get caught in traps set by poachers, who track their movements. State police have so far arrested five men accused of being local contacts for poachers.

The state's top elected official, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, announced the creation of a fund to buy security equipment, including closed-circuit video cameras, and increase the number of guards.

The state forest department will also conduct DNA tests and keep profiles of the remaining lions for their records.

"These initiatives, highly scientific and modern, will be adopted soon and government has agreed to sanction funds for buying these systems at once. This will help us to protect Asiatic lions here better and also all the other animals in the major forests in Gujarat," said Bharat Pathak, a forest officer.

The forest department will recruit close to 300 volunteers to help patrol the lion sanctuary, Pathak added.