Gujarat is the only home for Asiatic lions on the planet, and they are all concentrated in and around the Gir range. Conservation efforts in the state have helped the lion population recover from the brink of extinction to over 600 lions in 2017.
Yet, there is a risk of deadly diseases and unnatural deaths because a significant number of lions live outside the protected area of Gir. For conservationists, translocation of lions is the one stop solution to ensure that the feline population grows across the country.
However, the Gujarat government is in no mood to share its lions with any other state. In April 2013, the Supreme Court ordered Gujarat to move some lions to Kuno Palpur Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh within six months.
Five years have passed since the SC passed the order and not a single lion has been moved to Madhya Pradesh. Instead, the state government plans to spend Rs 351 crore on the latest drone and CCTV cameras, hospitals, etc for its conservation efforts.
The Quint explains why the Gujarat government is unwilling to part ways with its lions in the name of ‘Gujarati Asmita’ or Gujarati Pride.
These lions have moved to Porbandar on the west and Bhavnagar and Amreli on the east. Apart from lions, over 500 leopards also share the prey base in the Gir range.
Illegal lion shows have become popular in the Gir range where touts offer close encounters with the lions, much to the amazement of tourists. In June 2018, seven people were arrested, after a video of them teasing a three-year-old lioness with a live rooster went viral.
But the problems concerning the positives of conservation doesn’t end here.
To begin with, the State Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava told the Gujarat State Assembly earlier this year that out of the 184 lions that died in Gir between 2016-2017, 32 died of unnatural causes. These include deaths due to electrocution, falling into open dry well, etc.
Moreover, between September-October 2018, 27 lions died in Gir, due to infighting, pneumonia, Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) and Protozoa infection. CDV had wiped out 1,000 lions in the African Serengeti during the mid-90s.
According to wild life activists, CDV could threaten the lions once again as the population lives in a tight pocket and are concentrated in one state.