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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 August 2005, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Lions and the Indian bandits
By Sutapa Mukerjee
BBC News, Lucknow

Serengeti Lion, BBC
The lions will be expected to keep the bandits away

Lions may soon be unleashed in the bandit badlands of central India with police hoping the animals may improve the law and order situation.

The government in Uttar Pradesh state wants to set up a 371-acre lion safari park with five cats in the bandit-ridden Chambal ravines.

Police hope they may keep the bandits away.

There have been about 4,000 kidnappings and 180 murders in the area in the past five years.

The lions will be used for target practice by Chambal's not-so-nice residents
Belinda Wright, Wildlife Protection Society of India

"Not that the lions will be chasing the bandits, but the area will soon have a lot of movement by tourists and officials and will be lit up brightly. This will force the dacoits to flee to safer hideouts," said a senior police official Daljit Singh Chaudhary.

Uttar Pradesh's chief wildlife official Mohammed Hasan says it has contacted Indian zoological parks for the first five Asiatic lions between four and five years of age to launch the park.

The park will be fenced and the lions will be fed with 10kg to 14 kg of buffalo meat once a day.

"Though there is good forest cover in the area, there are no animals which the lions can hunt for food,", says Mr Hasan.

'Rough terrain'

But environmentalists say the lions themselves may become victims.

"The lions will be used for target practice by Chambal's not-so-nice residents," Belinda Wright, founder of the privately-run Wildlife Protection Society of India told the AFP news agency.

Bandit Queen Phoolan Devi and supporters
Phoolan Devi was one of India's most famous outlaws

"It will be a waste of money... It will never take off," she said.

Qamar Qureshi, a scientist with the Wildlife Institute of India, said: "Forget chasing away dacoits. The dacoits will kill these cats."

A previous attempt to establish such a sanctuary in Chandraprabha in eastern Uttar Pradesh initially appeared to succeed.

The lion population grew from three to 11 animals, but then the cats disappeared, presumably shot or poisoned by poachers.

The police say it is difficult to catch the bandits in a valley with unfriendly terrain.

"The landscape is so uneven and bushy that sometimes we find it difficult to even trace our own men," says Mr Chaudhary.

At present there are two main gangs operating in the area after a number of them have surrendered or been killed.

The Chambal ravines have been a haven for bandits for centuries.

One of India's most famous outlaws - Bandit Queen Phoolan Devi - dominated the area in the 1980s before being jailed.

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