When members of an Indian village found an Asiatic lion drowning at the bottom of an 80-foot well in 2017, they couldn’t stand by and do nothing. So instead they launched a daring plan to rescue the magnificent beast. But their noble efforts to help one of the threatened species would be fraught with danger.
The region of Gujarat in western India is well-known among nature lovers as being home to a wide range of exotic wildlife. The area boasts a number of national parks, reserves and sanctuaries which teem with scarce animals. However, visitors to Gujarat don’t necessarily have to visit one of these places to spot a rare find.
A number of fascinating creatures roam freely around Gujarat’s villages, towns and cities. Among them is the Asiatic lion. This species of big cat is exclusive to the region. Asiatic lions – otherwise known as Indian lions – are slightly smaller than their African counterparts and sport a characteristic fold of skin down their bellies.
Sadly, however, Asiatic lions have a small population. The animal is in fact so rare that the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies it as “Endangered” on its Red List of Threatened Species. Thanks to conservation efforts, numbers have been steadily increasing since 2010, when it was believed the animal was on the brink of extinction. However, the count is still tiny – in 2016, experts estimated that there were just 493 Asiatic lions left in the wild.
So with the animals’ future hanging in the balance, every Asiatic lion life counts. With that in mind, when one Asiatic lioness found herself in trouble in the Gujarati village of Amrapur, locals stepped in. In fact, the residents went above and beyond to try and save the stricken creature’s life.
The dramatic rescue attempt took place in July 2017. It all began when a pride of Asiatic lions arrived in the village. Naturally, the presence of a group of ferocious, carnivorous predators gave the locals some concerns. As a result, the villagers attempted to scare the big cats away from their homes and families.
Among the pride was a two-year-old lioness. In all the commotion, the young creature was separated from the group, panicked and tried to leap to safety over an open well. Unfortunately, she misplaced her footing and ended up falling about 80 feet to the bottom of the shaft.
The turn of events shocked everyone who witnessed it, including the rest of the lioness’ pride. After watching their family member disappear down the hole, four of the beasts tentatively peeped down the well to see if she had survived the fall. It turned out that she had, but with no way to access the lioness the pride fled to nearby woodland.
Once the lions had moved away, some villagers ventured over to the well to survey the situation. They saw the lioness treading water below. Her movements were panicked in the estimated 20-foot-deep depths. The distressed lioness couldn’t paddle the water forever. Unless someone did something soon, she would doubtless drown and the Asiatic lion population would be down by one member.
So the Amrapur villagers called on some lion experts in a desperate bid to rescue the wild animal from its potential watery tomb. However, delivering the creature to safety would prove to be difficult. Experienced lion tracker Rahim Baloch, 51, from the nearby Sasan Gir National Park explained the problem to U.K. tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail in July 2017. He said that his team did not have the option of sedating the lioness and rendering her harmless. If they had done so, she would have been unable to keep paddling. There was also the possibility that she would lose consciousness – either way she would drown.
So Baloch had no choice but to carry out his rescue attempt while the frightened animal was awake and dangerous. Clearly, the lion tracker would be risking his life in doing so. But with Asiatic lion numbers at a critical low, the brave Baloch was willing to take that chance.
Subsequently, with little thought of his own safety, Baloch entered the lion’s lair. “I got into a metal cage and went down into the well,” he told the Daily Mail. “When I was at the bottom, I lassoed a loop across the lioness’ shoulder, which meant she could be pulled up carefully and put in a cage.”
An onlooker captured the dramatic scenes on camera and produced a short video which was uploaded to YouTube in July 2017. In the footage, we see the hapless lioness being unceremoniously hoisted out of the water with a blue rope. As the youngster emerges into the light of day, it is clear to see she is distressed. She lashes out with a paw and manages to muster up the energy for a slight growl before rescuers bundle her into an awaiting cage.
You can almost hear the relief as the cage is shut on the lioness and the immediate danger passes. A group of Amrapur locals transported the cage and its traumatized cargo to the Sasan Gir Animal Care Center. This facility specializes in the care of Asiatic lions. Moreover, the team there has treated rescued animals in the past.
So the center was the best possible place for the lucky lioness to be. When the youngster arrived there, she was looked over and then kept in for observation. The center’s veterinarian staff found the lioness to be in a good condition. Against all the odds, she had only suffered minor injuries in her fall.
Thankfully, the fortunate feline made a swift and complete recovery. And so the animal experts at Sasan Gir were able to release her back into the wild in a forest close to Amrapur. They hoped that from there that the young lioness would be able to be reunited with her family.
Sad to say, but this was not the first time that a rare Asiatic lion has fallen down a well. Moreover, it is unlikely that the Amrapur lioness will be the last to face such a fate. In a similar incident in November 2014, another of the animals was rescued by rope hoist from a 60-foot well in a district of the city of Junagadh.
After officials retrieved the animal, they discovered it to be an eight-year-old male. Like the young lioness in Amrapur, he was then transferred to Sasan Gir. But his rescuers had high hopes for his recovery. “It was in good health despite the fall,” Ramesh Katara, a deputy conservator at the Junagadh forestry department, told national newspaper The Indian Express at the time.
Once again, the animal had been extremely fortunate. “We have sent it to animal care center in Sasan Gir as a precautionary measure,” Katara added. “It will be kept under observation there for some time before we release it in the wild.”
Despite these happy endings, there must be some animals that are not so lucky. Thankfully for the Asiatic lion, Gujarati attitudes to the species are changing. People in the region take great pride in their rare indigenous creature and are willing to go to extreme measures to save them. And – thanks in part to their brave efforts – the Asiatic lion’s future looks brighter than it has in a long time.