Source AP ©

India lawmakers claim environment ministry inaction to blame for lion poaching

India's environment ministry has failed to protect the country's rare Asiatic lions, lawmakers said after poachers killed 13 of the animals in two months, a news agency reported Saturday.

The lawmakers said this week that the ministry's "inaction" was to blame for the rampant killings of the lions and the selling of their claws on the international market, the Press Trust of India news agency said, quoting a report to Parliament.

Animal rights advocates have demanded that the environment ministry enforce strict patrolling of animal sanctuaries, and that authorities arrest poachers and forest guards who are helping to kill the big cats.

"We would like to know what steps are being taken to prevent such killings," said a parliamentary committee that includes lawmakers from all political sides.

Environment Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

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

The Gujarat state government announced earlier this month that it would spend 400 million rupees (US$9 million, EUR6.7 million) to protect the cats in Gir National Park, with more guards and advanced security equipment.

The sanctuary is nearly 185 kilometers (115 miles) south of Ahmadabad, the main city in western Gujarat state.

The security equipment would include closed-circuit video cameras, and volunteers would be recruited to patrol lion sanctuary.

The state forest department will also conduct DNA tests and keep profiles of the remaining lions for their records, said Narendra Modi, the state's top elected official.

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.

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