Gir lions get a second home

Supreme Court orders shifting of some lions to Madhya Pradesh's Kuno-Palpur sanctuary to protect their gene pool

 
By Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

tiger

The Asiatic lion, the last remaining population of which is found only in the Gir National Park in Gujarat, will finally have a second home.

The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Gujarat government to relocate within six months a limited number of lions from Gir to the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. The court also cancelled the ambitious plan of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to reintroduce cheetah in India.

The lions now number over 400 in Gir and their presence is often recorded outside the national park boundaries.

The Central government had decided to relocate a pride of Asiatic lions from Gir to a different place in 1990s as fears were expressed that a high rate of inbreeding and the resultant reduced genetic diversity may make the Gir lions highly susceptible to epidemics. The Gujarat government, however, refused to part with the lions calling them the “pride of Gujarat”. In 2006, Delhi-based NGO Biodiversity Conservation Trust of India filed a public interest petition in the Supreme Court, seeking direction to the Gujarat government for translocation of lions.

Cheetah project cancelled

While the case was pending in court, MoEF decided in 2010 to re-introduce the cheetah in India. The cheetah population in India had been completely wiped out by 1952.  MoEF planned to spend Rs 300 crore on bringing specimens of the big cat from Namibia, Africa, to Kuno-Palpur. The Gujarat government then argued that the lion should not be introduced in Kuno as MoEF’s priority was to bring the cheetah to the sanctuary.

The court put the implementation of the cheetah project on hold in May last year, pointing out that the project was not well-deliberated and that the proposal had not been submitted to the National Board of Wildlife, the statutory body that decides on wildlife matters.

Giving its final judgement on the matter on April 15, the court asked the ministry not to go ahead with the cheetah project, and instead make arrangements for the translocation of Asiatic lions to Kuno. The court held that it was more important to ensure the safety of an endangered species like the Asiatic lion than to maintain the government’s pride.
 

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