Madhya Pradesh will get Gujarat’s pride -- lions from Gir -- but not the fastest animal on planet, cheetahs from Africa.
The Supreme Court on Monday directed Gujarat government to send some Asiatic lions – that chief minister Narendra Modi insisted were the state’s “pride” – to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno-Palpur wildlife sanctuary.
But the court refused to put Cheetahs imported from Africa in the same forest after wildlife experts warned that the lion and the cheetah may not live in peace there and kill each other.
The environment ministry had decided to import Cheetahs for Kuno-Palpur after Modi repeatedly refused to part with lions -- found in wild only in Saurashtra’s Gir national park -- for a second home fearing an apparent loss in lion tourism.
An expert committee headed by former Indian Forest Service officer MK Ranjit Singh identified Kuno as a perfect place for re-introduction of Cheetahs, which had got extinct from India in 1952s.
Kuno is in Sheopur district, which had cheetah population till they were hunted down in early 1900s. The Union Cabinet had approved Rs. 100 crore for the ambitious trans-continental wildlife relocation project.
But, wildlife biologist Fayaz Khudsar, who had worked hard to develop Kuno as an alternative lion habitat during his student days and had filed public interest litigation in apex court for lion relocation, had different view.
He felt that if Kuno get cheetahs, a second home for lions would remain a pipe dream. He, therefore, asked the court to scrap the cheetah project for sake of lions.
The court constituted an expert committee which concurred with Khudsar’s view and submitted its report to the court, which put a stay on the Cheetah project.
On Monday, the court constituted an expert body to decide on number of lions to be relocated and monitor the entire relocation process to Madhya Pradesh.
Ninety-two Asiatic lions have died, including 83 of natural death, in the past two years in Gujarat's Saurashtra region while there has been no case of poaching.
As per the government data, 46 lions each died in 2011 and 2012. Out of the total 92 lions dying in the past two years, 43 were cubs, 29 female and 20 male felines.