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Here’s Why Gir Lions May Never Leave Gujarat for MP

Gujarat is the last Eden for Asiatic Lions in the world, which are concentrated in and around the Gir range.

Updated
India
6 min read
A Gir lion resting in the shade.
i
Snapshot

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.

Here’s Why Gir Lions May Never Leave Gujarat for MP

  1. 1. The Bane of Over Population

    An Asiatic lion rests in Gir forest. 
    An Asiatic lion rests in Gir forest. 
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Although the conservation efforts made by the state government were universally lauded, it created a new problem for the wildlife department. In the 2018 CAG report, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) stated that over 54.6 percent lions live outside protected areas.

    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.

    Expand
  2. 2. Is Translocation the Solution?

    An Asiatic lion rests in Gir forest. 
    An Asiatic lion rests in Gir forest. 
    (Photo: Reuters)

    Inter-state translocation of lions is a touchy subject for the politicians of Gujarat, who have for decades, associated ‘Gujarati Asmita’ (the pride of Gujarat) with its pride of lions. For wildlife experts, translocation is the only solution that guarantees successful conservation, especially when it comes to deadly diseases that can destroy the feline population.

    A writ petition was filed in 1995 by the Centre for Environment Law and World Wildlife Fund India (WWF-I) in the Supreme Court to order the Gujarat government to release 19 Asiatic Lions to MP’s Kuno Palpur Sanctuary.

    The case was later fast tracked and on 15 April 2013, following which the SC ordered the Gujarat government to translocate lions within six months to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary.

    Five years on, the Gujarat government has failed to adhere to the SC order. Madhya Pradesh-based wildlife activist, Ajay Shankar Dubey, filed a contempt petition in the SC in 2014 after Gujarat failed to comply with the SC order.

    The case was first heard in November 2017 and in March 2018 the SC discharged the plea after the Union government gave assurances that a Standing Committee will be formed, and translocation will be expedited soon. However, the standing committee met just once in March 2018 and no further meetings were held.

    “We have been trying to get an urgent hearing on the matter before the Supreme Court, but the SC doesn’t consider the matter to be urgent. We are expecting a hearing in the next couple of weeks.”
    Ajay Shankar Dubey
    Expand
  3. 3. Gujarat’s Alternative: More Money Into Conservation Efforts

    The Gir forest is a protected sanctuary for the lions.
    The Gir forest is a protected sanctuary for the lions.
    ( Photo: ANI screengrab)

    It has become clear that the Gujarat government is in no mood to share its lions with Madhya Pradesh. Even criticism over the quality of conservation efforts in the backdrop of unnatural deaths and viral epidemics have not shaken the state government.

    Instead the state government repeatedly infuses more capital into the conservation efforts knowing well that lions will fare better if moved to new sanctuaries outside Gujarat. On Tuesday 20 November, the state government announced a range of new initiatives for the conservation of the Asiatic lions, including building a state-of-the-art hospital in Sasan-Gir to treat them as well as other wild animals.
    “The state government will spend Rs 350 crore towards protection and conservation of lions. We will build a state-of-the-art hospital in Sasan-Gir at a cost of Rs 100 crore. This hospital will also have a laboratory to conduct various tests”
    Ganpat Vasava, Gujarat Forest Minister

    To run the animal hospital and laboratory, the CM has approved to set up a separate Veterinary Cadre, for which around 120 experts and technicians will be recruited, said Additional Chief Secretary, Forest, Rajiv Kumar Gupta.

    Other measures include deployment of drones to keep a watch on lions’ movements, installing a camera network in Gir forest, building eight new rescue centres, deployment of 33 Rapid Response Teams in the forest and recruitment of 100 ‘trackers’ to keep an eye on lions, said Vasava.

    He added that a dedicated ambulance service for lions and a 24-hour helpline, for getting vital information from public about lions, will also be launched soon. Vasava also announced that Gujarat will get five new safari parks, including a lion safari park near Gandhinagar.

    With these measures in place the state government intends to silence its critics and the judiciary, who have repeatedly raised the issue of translocation of lions.

    Expand
  4. 4. Kuno Palpur’s Never Ending Wait for Lions

    Image used for representaional purposes. 
    Image used for representaional purposes. 
    (Photo: iStockphoto)

    The Gujarat government has raised several issues with translocating lions to Madhya Pradesh, which include limited sanctuary area. In 2017, the Madhya Pradesh government ran out of patience, and declared that it would release tigers into the park as it is ready for big cats. However, no tigers have been introduced so far.

    With news of lion deaths making headlines this year, the MP government got cracking and increased the area of the sanctuary. Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (APCCF) of the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, told The Quint that two wild life sanctuaries were de-notified to increase the size of Kuno-Palpur from 350 Sq Km to over 700 Sq Km.

    This was a requirement raised by the expert committee formed by the Union Government for trans-locating lions from Gir to Kuno.

    “The Madhya Pradesh government has met with all the stipulations. Yet the Gujarat government is unnecessarily delaying the translocation process citing International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines. Those guidelines have already been reviewed under the Supreme Court order.”
    Ajay Shankar Dubey, Wildlife Activist

    Even though the present governments in both Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat are run by the BJP, lions will not be shared by the two states. Gujarat will hold its pride of lions close to the chest, as it endows the state with the title ‘Last Abode For Asiatic Lions’ and thereby boost tourism.

    (with inputs from PTI)

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

The Bane of Over Population

An Asiatic lion rests in Gir forest. 
An Asiatic lion rests in Gir forest. 
(Photo: Reuters)
Although the conservation efforts made by the state government were universally lauded, it created a new problem for the wildlife department. In the 2018 CAG report, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) stated that over 54.6 percent lions live outside protected areas.

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.

Is Translocation the Solution?

An Asiatic lion rests in Gir forest. 
An Asiatic lion rests in Gir forest. 
(Photo: Reuters)

Inter-state translocation of lions is a touchy subject for the politicians of Gujarat, who have for decades, associated ‘Gujarati Asmita’ (the pride of Gujarat) with its pride of lions. For wildlife experts, translocation is the only solution that guarantees successful conservation, especially when it comes to deadly diseases that can destroy the feline population.

A writ petition was filed in 1995 by the Centre for Environment Law and World Wildlife Fund India (WWF-I) in the Supreme Court to order the Gujarat government to release 19 Asiatic Lions to MP’s Kuno Palpur Sanctuary.

The case was later fast tracked and on 15 April 2013, following which the SC ordered the Gujarat government to translocate lions within six months to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary.

Five years on, the Gujarat government has failed to adhere to the SC order. Madhya Pradesh-based wildlife activist, Ajay Shankar Dubey, filed a contempt petition in the SC in 2014 after Gujarat failed to comply with the SC order.

The case was first heard in November 2017 and in March 2018 the SC discharged the plea after the Union government gave assurances that a Standing Committee will be formed, and translocation will be expedited soon. However, the standing committee met just once in March 2018 and no further meetings were held.

“We have been trying to get an urgent hearing on the matter before the Supreme Court, but the SC doesn’t consider the matter to be urgent. We are expecting a hearing in the next couple of weeks.”
Ajay Shankar Dubey
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Gujarat’s Alternative: More Money Into Conservation Efforts

The Gir forest is a protected sanctuary for the lions.
The Gir forest is a protected sanctuary for the lions.
( Photo: ANI screengrab)

It has become clear that the Gujarat government is in no mood to share its lions with Madhya Pradesh. Even criticism over the quality of conservation efforts in the backdrop of unnatural deaths and viral epidemics have not shaken the state government.

Instead the state government repeatedly infuses more capital into the conservation efforts knowing well that lions will fare better if moved to new sanctuaries outside Gujarat. On Tuesday 20 November, the state government announced a range of new initiatives for the conservation of the Asiatic lions, including building a state-of-the-art hospital in Sasan-Gir to treat them as well as other wild animals.
“The state government will spend Rs 350 crore towards protection and conservation of lions. We will build a state-of-the-art hospital in Sasan-Gir at a cost of Rs 100 crore. This hospital will also have a laboratory to conduct various tests”
Ganpat Vasava, Gujarat Forest Minister

To run the animal hospital and laboratory, the CM has approved to set up a separate Veterinary Cadre, for which around 120 experts and technicians will be recruited, said Additional Chief Secretary, Forest, Rajiv Kumar Gupta.

Other measures include deployment of drones to keep a watch on lions’ movements, installing a camera network in Gir forest, building eight new rescue centres, deployment of 33 Rapid Response Teams in the forest and recruitment of 100 ‘trackers’ to keep an eye on lions, said Vasava.

He added that a dedicated ambulance service for lions and a 24-hour helpline, for getting vital information from public about lions, will also be launched soon. Vasava also announced that Gujarat will get five new safari parks, including a lion safari park near Gandhinagar.

With these measures in place the state government intends to silence its critics and the judiciary, who have repeatedly raised the issue of translocation of lions.

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Kuno Palpur’s Never Ending Wait for Lions

Image used for representaional purposes. 
Image used for representaional purposes. 
(Photo: iStockphoto)

The Gujarat government has raised several issues with translocating lions to Madhya Pradesh, which include limited sanctuary area. In 2017, the Madhya Pradesh government ran out of patience, and declared that it would release tigers into the park as it is ready for big cats. However, no tigers have been introduced so far.

With news of lion deaths making headlines this year, the MP government got cracking and increased the area of the sanctuary. Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (APCCF) of the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, told The Quint that two wild life sanctuaries were de-notified to increase the size of Kuno-Palpur from 350 Sq Km to over 700 Sq Km.

This was a requirement raised by the expert committee formed by the Union Government for trans-locating lions from Gir to Kuno.

“The Madhya Pradesh government has met with all the stipulations. Yet the Gujarat government is unnecessarily delaying the translocation process citing International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines. Those guidelines have already been reviewed under the Supreme Court order.”
Ajay Shankar Dubey, Wildlife Activist

Even though the present governments in both Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat are run by the BJP, lions will not be shared by the two states. Gujarat will hold its pride of lions close to the chest, as it endows the state with the title ‘Last Abode For Asiatic Lions’ and thereby boost tourism.

(with inputs from PTI)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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