Polls, politics drive lions issue off wildlife board agenda

Polls, politics drive lions issue off wildlife board agenda

New Delhi: The coming assembly elections in Gujarat and opposition by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have forced the National Board of Wildlife (NBW) to drop from its agenda for a 1 November meeting on the contentious issue of relocating Asiatic Lions to other habitats in the country. This, despite the death of 32 lions at the Gir National Park in Gujarat this year, including five electrocuted last week.

Gujarat steadfastly refuses to give up its lions arguing that these are the “pride of Gujarat". Suryakant Acharya, member of a parliamentary committee on environment and forests, and a BJP Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat, said that any attempt at relocating Gir’s lions would provoke intense opposition across the state. “Every Gujarati is opposed to relocation of lions. It has been attempted in the past, but it didn’t work. The lion can only live in his habitat, right here in this area."

Mint had reported on 8 August that the NBW would consider the long-debated issue of releasing captive-bred lions in a habitat in Madhya Pradesh after Gujarat said it would not allow the wild lions to be moved from the state.

“The Wildlife Institute of India chose Kuno, Madhya Pradesh, as the perfect spot for lions in 1980. Thirty-three villages were relocated out of the area for this at a cost of Rs15 crore. The area has been secured, herbivore population is adequate but even then the Gujarat government’s denial to relocate stops this," saidRitwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer.

Experts say overpopulation of lions in Gir is leading to conflicts with humans residing near the Gir park. “The habitat in Gir is not enough. It is overpopulated (with lions)," said Dutta. However, Jashubhai Dhanabhai Barad, a Congress parliamentarian who represents Junagadh in Gujarat, said there were other issues at play.

“(Wildlife) officials need to first understand why hardly any lion can be found within the national park inside the forest area. More than two-thirds are found outside the forest. It is clear that conducive conditions need to be created within their habitat,"he said.