An uncanny political fight treading into wildlife will start from Monday when a committee of experts will consider relocation of lions from Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat to Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh as directed by the Supreme Court earlier this year.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi had opposed the relocation terming Gir lions as “Gujarati pride” and had even threatened to seek review of the Supreme Court order, which has not happened so far. Madhya Pradesh had claimed that Kuno Palpur was ready for soft release of lions.
The differing view of the two state governments and some wildlife experts would come out in open when wildlife wardens of the two states participate in the environment ministry’s committee to decide on relocation of Gir lions.
The committed is headed by additional director general, wildlife, SS Gabrayal and has experts such as former director of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) PR Sinha, WII faculty J Y Jhala, senior ecologist Ravi Chellam and ATS John as members. The visible omission from the committee is petitioner and conservationist Fayaz Khudsar, who has worked extensively in Kuno.
Many believe that the committee is loaded with experts who believe that Kuno is not ready for relocation.
Chellam, who did Kuno habitat viable study in 1993, in his report to the Supreme Court had raised doubts over MP’s claim on prey base in Kuno to sustain lion population and adequacy of 344 sq kilometer of the park to provide second home to the big cats.
“Review of the most recent data provided by Madhya Pradesh reveals several flaws both with data collection methods as well as potentially with the analysis,” he said in his note to the court. Sinha had also raised doubts over Kuno’s ability to sustain relocation.
Madhya Pradesh forest department is not ready to take this criticism. “Any expert from anywhere in the world can visit Kuno and do a study on prey base,” said a senior MP forest department official. “Kuno may be 344 sq kms but it is part of contiguous forest of 4,000 sq kms. The limit of the park can be extended any time,” the official added.
Other than experts, MP government officials will also have to face charged Gujarat government officials, who have been directed to oppose the relocation tooth and nail.
Environment ministry officials, however, said all views would be taken into consideration and the committee may be expanded for wider scientific input. “Lions will not go there immediately. It will take some time,” an official said.