The Gujarat government, which was always against giving away its lions to Madhya Pradesh, has received help from unexpected quarters — the cheetahs in Namibia.
The Narendra Modi-led government has refused to relocate lions from Gir National Park in Saurashtra region to Kuno Palpur National Park in Madhya Pradesh on the grounds that the big cats will kill the cheetahs that will be brought there from Namibia.
The environment ministry had recently allowed the Madhya Pradesh government to translocate nine cheetahs from Namibia in a phased manner for being released in the wild in Kuno Palpur. The project will cost around Rs. 50 crore.
The ministry's decision came handy for the Gujarat government in the Supreme Court. A technical report from the Wildlife Institute of India and Wildlife Trust of India had suggested that lions should be relocated only after the cheetahs have settled down in Kuno Palpur.
A similar argument was put forth by the Gujarat government's counsel, who pleaded for suspension of any plan to relocate lions to Kuno Palpur until the safety of the cheetahs was ensured. Cheetahs could be found in India till the 1960s.
For years now, the Gujarat government had been refusing to hand over its lions — stating that they could not afford to part with the ‘pride of Gujarat’. Now, the cheetah project has given them just the tool with which to deny Madhya Pradesh the lions.
Incidentally, one of the main reasons for the creation of Kuno Palpur was the relocation of the lions. “Kuno was the designated home for Asiatic lions,” said Fayaz Khudsar, who had filed a petition in the Supreme Court for the purpose, “The cheetah project will be a huge setback for the lions.”
As of summer 2010, there were 411 asiatic lions in the Gir National Park.