The environment ministry has poured cold water on demands for translocating lions from the Gir National Park in Gujarat to the Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, saying the process will take more than 25 years.
In a response submitted in the Lok Sabha, environment minister Prakash Javadekar said the matter of relocating lions from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh (both BJP-ruled states) was a “long-term action”, starting from preparing the translocation area in MP to identifying the lions in Gujarat.
“The whole programme encompasses action for over 25 years,” Javadekar said in a written reply to a question asked by two Congress Lok Sabha MPs – Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia.
Sources in the ministry said the Lok Sabha statement was made after consultation with experts, who were of the view that the translocation of lions was not immediately possible.
“We don’t think Kuno is perfect to support a lion population as an issue of conflict with tigers was emerging,” a senior ministry official said, requesting anonymity.
The tigers that now call the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary home were brought in from the congested Ranthambore reserve in Rajasthan. Many wildlife experts believe the two big cats cannot co-exist in a small manmade sanctuary like Kuno.
However, Fayaz Khudsar, a biologist with Delhi University and on whose petition the apex court had ordered the relocation of lions, said there has been no scientific research on the subject in central India.
“A small paper published by wildlife historian Mahesh Rangarajan found that lions and tigers had co-existed in Shivpuri district before they were hunted down over 100 years ago,” he said, adding the ministry should set up an expert committee to study the issue.
The ministry official also said the topographies of Gir and Kuno were totally different. “Gir is a dry, deciduous forest whereas Kuno falls in a wet zone,” the official said.
To checkmate any possibility of relocation outside the state, the Gujarat government in turn has proposed an alternative home for the Gir lions in the state’s Amerli region, which has similar weather conditions as Gir.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat had opposed the lion relocation project, but the Supreme Court in April 2013 directed the central government to translocate some of the big cats from their only home in India to a manmade green habitat in the Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh.
With Javadekar’s reply in the Lok Sabha, officials said, the issue has been settled for the time being.