The South Asian Times

22 October 2018 06:14 AM

With Gujarat reluctant to share its wild lions, MP eyes zoos

By Kushagra Dixit

New Delhi, Aug 23: With no sign of Gujarat parting with its free-ranging Asiatic lions for reintroduction and conservation purposes, the Madhya Pradesh forest department is now eyeing lions and cubs from zoos for its Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary.

Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have been locked in a legal battle over the issue for the past few years, with latter loath to part with its lions.

The Madhya Pradesh government has now sent a proposal to the Centre requesting its Plan B be considered to get pure breed Asiatic lion's cubs from different zoos and form a pride at Kuno to raise them as free-ranging animals, officials told IANS.

Plan A was to rehabilitate wild lions from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh.

"The state government has sent proposal to the Government of India that its expert committee must consider Plan B," a senior forest official told IANS on condition of anonymity. The official added that this is, however, not the dead-end of the plan to obtain wild lions from Gujarat.

In a note sent in June 2017, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF), Madhya Pradesh, proposed to seek permission of the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) to translocate two cubs born this year at Indore Zoo.

The note says that despite the apex court's orders and six meetings of the expert committee, the reintroduction of Asiatic lions has not moved forward.

"Madhya Pradesh has experience of reintroducing orphaned tiger cubs in the wild after raising them and making them expert hunters. At present the lion cubs at Indore zoo have matured and developed immunity," said a note by the PCCF, Jitendra Agarwal.

The note further proposes to seek permission from CZA, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to implement the state's Plan B.

However, Plan B, according to experts, "fails" to meet the original mandate, which was the concern to save this rare species from an epidemic or natural disaster leading to its complete wipeout.

Gujarat's Gir forest is the only home to free-ranging or wild Asiatic lions.

Often considered over-populated, the numbers at Gir are increasing at an impressive rate, with 523 felines in 2016 to 650 in a recently conlcuded census.

The WII had, in 1989, pushed for a second natural habitat -- Madhya Pradesh -- for the Asiatic lions for their long-term conservation.

"The objective was to protect the wild free-ranging lions of Gir and not to raise the breed in captivity in a wildlife sanctuary. The stubbornness of Gujarat can lead to disasterous results," wildlife activist Ajay Dube told IANS.

He added that the lions in Gir are also vulnerable to genetic disorders caused by "in-family breeding" due to high density, which is already affecting their immunity.

The Supreme Court in April 2013 ordered "immediate" re-introduction of lions to Kuno from Gir.

The court had then also fixed a six-month deadline for a committee responsible for accomplishing the mission under the central government's Additional Director General of Forest Wildlife.

However, even though Kuno was customised to hold nearly 40 lions, not a single feline has been moved to the sanctuary.

Update: 23 Aug, 2017