New Delhi: The Union government is looking at releasing three captive-bred Asiatic lions in a sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, after it failed to convince the Gujarat government to part with its pride of lions.
The relocation to Madhya Pradesh was meant to protect the Asiatic lion—a schedule 1, or most endangered species in India—after 17 lions died in Gujarat in 2006.
Ecologists are not in favour of releasing captive lions and say it looks like the Centre has given in to Gujarat.
“I am bitterly disappointed that captive-bred animals are being considered when there are surplus lions outside the protected area in Gujarat,” says Ravi Chellam, director, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, a
Facing danger: An Asiatic lion inside the breeding centre at Sakkar Bag zoological park in Junagadh town, Gujarat. It is one of the the most endangered species.
In September 2006, the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) had written to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi requesting the transfer of two pairs of lions; Modi replied that he was asking the concerned officials to look into the matter. But nothing has come of this.
“We are not agreeing to any proposals for relocation of lions. Gujarat is their home ground and we are conserving it. There is no question of shifting a few,” says Pradeep Khanna, chief wildlife warden, Gujarat.
MoEF will now take a decision on releasing captive-bred lions in the upcoming meeting of the National Board of Wildlife (NBoW), chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“If captive animals had to be released, this could have been done decades back. This is a clear indication of the Central government capitulating to the Gujarat government. The state has no ecological, biological or any other reason for not releasing their wild lions,” says a wildlife expert, who did not wish to be named.
Internationally, wild animals are frequently moved across boundaries to make new space for them.
The case of the Asiatic lion, of which only 327 exist in India, is critical. Their population is confined to the Gir Sanctuary in Gujarat where they are susceptible to illnesses.
The Kuno-Palpur Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh has been identified as a suitable site for shifting a few lions and 24 villages have been relocated out of the area.
At its meeting, NBoW will also discuss plans on saving other endangered Indian wildlife species, such as the snow leopard, the great Indian bustard and the Hangul, a kind of stag found in Jammu & Kashmir.
It will also consider a proposal to expand the number of protected areas for marine animals in the country, from five to 12, and discuss the dozen measures put forth by MoEF to protect the tiger, 1,300-1,500 of which remain in the wild. This number itself is a drastic drop of around 59% from the previous count.
The NBoW meeting will also take up the controversial Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act of 2006, the focus of a dispute between the environment ministry and the ministry of tribal affairs. The MoEF has suggested that no action be undertaken in existing tiger reserves till the “critical wildlife habitats” are identified and notified as per the Act. The Act gives traditional forest dwellers rights to forest resources and land, and conservationists fear that this could extend to protected areas, too, if the critical wildlife habitats are not notified before the Act is enforced.