An environment ministry’s expert committee has approved Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh as the second home for Asiatic lions found only in Gir national park but the Gujarat government will not share lions unless 33 studies as mandated by international wildlife watchdog IUCN is completed, the minutes of the committee’s meeting tabled in MP assembly on Tuesday disclosed.
Translocation of lions from Gir to Kuno Palpur has been a bitter issue between the two BJP rules states for more than a decade with Prime Minister Narendra Modi terming the big cats as “pride of Gujarat” which it cannot share when he was Gujarat’s chief minister between 2002 and 2014.
The committee at its last meeting in December 2016 in Kuno, which officials from Gujarat forest department also participated, said that the wildlife habitat was “ideally suited for second home for lions”.
“The committee had recommended translocation but time limit for the translocation had not been fixed,” the state government said in a written reply to a question raised by Congress legislator Ram Niwas Rawat.
Although in principle the Gujarat government has not opposed translocation, the minutes showed that the neighbouring state wants all 33 studies, mandated by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) in 2013 for wildlife relocation across the world, should be conducted to check whether Kuno was suitable for translocation or not.
Uday Vohra, conservator of forests (wildlife) Gujarat, at the meeting spoke about state’s proposal for 33 ecological studies before lion relocation. Vohra said preparing the action plan for relocation without studying results and findings of these studies would not solve the issue.
Responding to this, Roy P Thomas, member convener of the committee clarified that the issue was discussed in May 2016 and added that the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) had shared a document indicating the relevance of the studies. It said that 7 studies have been completed, 11 more were being conducted and seven were not required. The committee agreed that the WII’s document should be made part of action plan for lion reintroduction.
The studies cover issues like habitat status, prey base, vegetation cover, local weather and so on.
When contacted, principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) MP Animesh Shukla said the lion relocation project was inching forward.
“The PCCF Gujarat had visited Kuno in November and expert committee met there in December. The committee said it was ideal second home for the lion, he said. Regarding studies mandated under IUCN guidelines, the committee is taking the call as it is looking after all the aspects of the relocation project. We are facilitating the process to the best of our capability”
In August last year, even union minister of state for environment and forests Anil Madhav Dave had told reporters in Bhopal said MP will get lions from Gujarat soon as 80 % of the work for reintroduction project was complete in Kuno.
Box: Lion relocation project
As Asiatic lions exist only in Gir sanctuary, experts have often expressed apprehensions that high rate of inbreeding and less genetic diversity could make them susceptible to epidemics and make them extinct. In 1993, WII conducted a study to identify the best area for translocation of lions and they found Kuno-Palpur in Sheopur district, nearly 140 kms from Gwalior, most suitable. In this light, a proposal was mooted to translocate a few of the Gir lions to MP in 2000. Wildlife activist Fayaz Khudsar filed a public interest petition in the apex court in 2006 and sought translocation of Gir lions to MP. In April 2013, the apex court in a judgment directed that the lions be translocated to Kuno-Palpur in MP.
There are some positive signs in the much delayed reintroduction of Asiatic Lion in the Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno-Palpur wildlife sanctuary from Gujarat. Besides expert committee on translocation of lions to MP recommending it as ideally suited for second home for lions, the Gujarat government’s wildlife department has conveyed that “if all the guidelines of IUCN (International Union For Conservation of Nature) are followed, Gujarat does not have any issue in translocation of lions from Gir national park to Kuno sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh”.