Watch Indian Villagers Rescue a Lion That Fell Down a Well

Open agricultural wells are one of the biggest threats to the last population of Asiatic lions.
Nov 12, 2014·
John R. Platt covers the environment, wildlife, and technology and for TakePart, Scientific American, Audubon, and other publications.

Residents of Amrapur village in western India pulled off a don't-try-this-at-home feat this week, pulling a 400-pound angry lion from deep within an agricultural well.

Amrapur is in the Indian state of Gujarat, home to the last 410 or so Asiatic lions, the only ones that still live in the wild outside of Africa. Most of the animals live in and around the Gir Forest National Park, where they are surrounded by villages. The people of Gujarat take great pride in their predators, calling them the Gir lions.

Living so close to the predators is rarely dangerous for Gujarat residents, but it poses risks for the lions. Every year, a few die of electrocution after touching high-power, bare-wire electric fences that are used to scare off wild boars and other animals that can destroy crops. Others fall into any of the thousands of agricultural wells that have been carved into the landscape.

These wells, like the one the lion fell into last week, aren't quite what you think of when you hear the word well. They are usually roughly hewn pits 60 feet to 100 feet deep. The tops of the wells sit level with the ground, where they are often partially if not completely surrounded by vegetation. That means lions chasing prey through the area can’t see them. All too often, the lions fall in and have no way of escape. Two cubs reportedly fell into separate wells last month and drowned.

The male that fell in last week was luckier. Residents heard its roars and called the Gujarat Forest Department. Within a few hours, a team of people showed up to save the lion.

The well was almost too deep for the creature—it was forced to swim in place at times—so forestry officials lowered a bed into it, providing the cat with a surface to stand on. They then tranquilized the lion to calm it down, hooked a couple of ropes around its body, and lifted the roaring animal up and out. Once back on dry land, it was ushered into a cage and then placed on a truck to be transported to Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary for a health check.

Forestry officials told The Indian Express last week that the lion did not appear to have suffered any injuries from its fall. The Gujarat Forest Department did not return calls seeking an update on its condition.

The story does have a happy ending. The forestry department told The Indian Express that it will help the farmer who owns the well to build a low protective parapet around it, which could prevent further such incidents.

A nonprofit called the Wildlife Conservation Trust started building these walls in 2006 with the aid of local Lions Clubs. At the time, the walls cost just $250, $100 of which came from the forestry department, which has since taken over the program.

The well walls have saved many lion lives in Gir, but more work remains to be done. In 2011, only 450 of the area's 9,000 wells had been protected. With close to 1 percent of the country's lion population still falling into them every year, the job of protecting the rare cats is far from complete.