Embarrassed and shocked over the deaths of 11 Asiatic lions in the Gir forest within a week, the Gujarat Government has sought the help of Central wildlife experts to unravel the mystery.

As the Gujarat Government is steadfastly resisting the Supreme Court’s order to shift some of the Gir lions to the Kuno Palpur reserve forest in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, the recent deaths of so many big cats may weaken the state’s argument that Asiatic lions are safe here.

Though Gujarat’s forest minister Ganpat Vasava and officials initially claimed that at least half a dozen of the eleven deaths can be attributed to infighting among adult lions for territorial sovereignty, the State Government has finally agreed for the Centre’s intervention to get at the root of the problem.

A Central team of wildlife experts and other officials have flown in here on Sunday and left for Gir forest to have an on-the-spot investigation, including looking at the autopsy and viscera reports of the dead lions. The 259 sq-km Gir National Park and the surrounding 1,153 sq-km of sanctuary spread over Junagadh, Gir Somnath and Amreli districts in Saurashtra peninsula of Gujarat is the last and only natural habitat of the Asiatic lions.

Wildlife lovers and environmentalists disagree that deaths of so many lions in such a short time could be due to territorial infighting. Environment expert Mahesh Pandya told The Statesman on Monday that these recent deaths would certainly weaken Gujarat’s curative petition in the apex court claiming that the lions are safe here.

He alleged that the lions in Gir are getting endangered due to the Government’s inaction towards illegal mining and encroachments and giving licenses for resorts near the sanctuary areas. Though forest department officials confirm two to three per cent annual deaths as normal among wildlife, the Asiatic lions in Gir have also died in snake bites, drowning in overflowing rivers and electrocution at live wire fencings put up by villagers to protect their cattle.

Poaching by a gang from Madhya Pradesh had also claimed the lives of at least half a dozen lions a decade back.