Three months after the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Borivli, Mumbai’s only national park, sent a proposal to various wildlife sanctuaries, zoos and national parks in India to trade its rusty spotted cats with two lions, the park officials are yet to get any response.
The SGNP had planned to exchange two of their six captive rusty spotted cats -- world’s smallest cat living in the wild -- for two Asiatic lions.
The SGNP officials in October 2016 reached out to wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in Hyderabad, Bangalore, the central, state zoo authorities and the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat in a bid to increase the population of lions at the park.
“We have not received a positive response from any of the national parks yet, including Gir. It seems that they don’t have Asiatic lions to spare at the moment,” said Anwar Ahmed, chief conservator of forest, SGNP. “We are still trying to speak to forest officers from Gir and hope their stand changes.”
Sources from the Gir National Park, on condition of anonymity, said the exchange of a rusty spotted cat cannot be an equivalent for an Asiatic lion. “Some more species of the same animal or maybe a more valuable species is required for the exchange,” said a forest official.
Currently ,the SGNP’s lion safari, spread across 12 hectares, has three captive lions – two males and one female. While one of the males is old, the other two are siblings. Ahmed said the idea was to increase the lion population at SGNP as inbreeding is not permitted. “As inbreeding leads to a number of genetic diseases, we wanted to introduce new genes and increase the lion population by bringing lions from other sanctuaries,” he said.
The request for lions was in light of the state forest department’s intention to increase the forest cover and maintain its wildlife through a number of revamp programmes, especially for the SGNP. In July last year, the park managed to get two eight-year-old female captive Royal Bengal tigresses from Pench Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra.
Meanwhile, officials from the state zoo authority (SZA) said the central zoo authority (CZA) had compliance issues with SGNP, but why other sanctuaries were disinterested needed to be examined. “The CZA officials had an objection with the proposal, as they first wanted SGNP’s revamp plans to be cleared by them. However, we will have to see why there have been no takers from other zoos, national parks, as there is no clear indication from them yet,” said Sanjay Thakre, chief conservator of forest, SZA.
Lion safari at SGNP
The Sanjay Gandhi National Park lost its oldest lioness Shobha (12) in 2014, brought from Benerghatta National Park, Bengaluru in 2009. A male lion, Ravindra, aged 12, who was brought along with Shobha, is currently the eldest lion at SGNP.
Shobha, who died of a prolonged illness, had mothered three cubs –Jespa, Gopal and Little Shobha – along with her mate Badshah (died of old age in 2013). While Jespa and Gopal are the other two lions currently living at SGNP, Little Shobha died soon after their birth in 2012.