Natural resources and animals found in a State are they the pride of the nation or the State? In the case of Asiatic lions, they are pride of the State of Gujarat and not the nation, it appears. This can be attributed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, had stated that the lion was the pride of Gujarat and had publicly declared his opposition to the transfer of lions outside the State.
In view of paucity of forest cover in Gujarat for the species, it was proposed to translocate the lions to Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh. Accordingly, tribals living in the region were shifted out to make space for the new sanctuary.
It was in April 2013, that the Supreme Court had given six months for translocation of lions to Kuno Palpur. It also rejected a curative petition in August 2014, the last effort to scuttle translocation.
But delays on the part of the Gujarat State government on one pretext or the other have led to the present stalemate.
In fact a committee constituted by the Supreme Court in 2013 visited Kuno- Palpur Sanctuary held that Kuno was ideally suited as a second home for the Asiatic lion.
Translocation had been suggested on expert opinion that any viral infection could spread among the lion population in Gir, Gujarat and wipe out the entire species from the earth. It was after considerable deliberations that Kuno Palpur had been shortlisted for being the second home for the lions.
However, various excuses were given by the Gujarat State government which even said that Madhya Pradesh could not be the ideal location for shifting the lions as poaching could lead to extinction of the animal. Unlike the tiger which has been poached too often in the country for its striped skin,lion does not have such an attraction and hence cannot be threatened by poaching.
The fact that H. S. Singh of the National Board for Wild Life has written an article in the Current Science issue of 10 March 2017 in which he says that â€œduring the last five decades (1965 -2015)the number of lions has increased by 4-folds in the Gir forestâ€ supports indirectly relocation of lions to an alternative area.
He goes on to say that the ”distribution range of lions has also expanded to a large landscape in four districts in the state. Lions were restricted in the Gir forest till 1990, and the dispersion started when their population increased. In two decades, more than 40% of the total number of lions was spotted outside the Gir landscape.”
Singh writes further, ”Over the last two decades, spilled population of the lions has been accommodated in patches of forest in four districts -Junagadh, Gir-Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar. When the number of lions reached a saturation level in the Gir forest, they dispersed towards the historical distribution range, and established several satellite populations in the human dominated areas. In 2015, about 208 lions and 190 leopards were estimated in and around these satellite areas outside the Gir forest.”
Singh further warns ”During the last two decades (1995-2015), the number of lions has increased consistently from 42 to 208 outside the Gir forest. If the present trend continues, the number of lions outside the Gir forest is expected to exceed that within the forest in a decade.”
Obviously Gir sanctuary is falling short of space if Singh is to be believed. And this supports translocation of the species before a contagious disease breaks out among the lions.
Singh further indicates in his write up that the proliferation continued and ”five Protected Areas -Gir National Park, Gir Sanctuary, Pania Sanctuary, Mitiyala Sanctuary and Girnar Sanctuary, covering 1621 square km are presently managed as the Asiatic lion’s habitats. Among these, the Gir Protected Area, covering Gir National Park, Gir Sanctuary, and Pania Sanctuary includes about 1452 square km of a compact block of forests in three districts – Junagadh, Gir- Somnath and Amreli. Additionally, forest area and grasslands in the periphery of the Gir forest are also a part of the Gir Conservation Area. Mitiyala near Gir east and Girnar near Gir west are the first two satellite sanctuaries for the lion, where animals move freely from the Gir forest through both forests and non-forest areas.”
Singh writes about ‘dispersion’ of the species ”Lion dispersion started after severe drought in 1987â€“88. When the population reached near saturation (306 in 2010 and 315 in 2015), nomads and grown sub-adults were compelled to leave prides in search of food and space. Subsequently, the six satellite areas in the four districts were captured by the lions.”
Relocation of lions was then justified and reasonable to save the species.
Under pressure from the Apex court orders, the Gujarat’s wildlife department finally gave in agreeing but putting a drag saying ”if all the guidelines of International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN) are followed, Gujarat does not have any issue in translocation ..”
Gujarat’s Forest Minister still won’t commit to any translocation deadline because ” it was for the Centre and the ministry of environment and forest to decide.” He said ”the state government was yet to receive a draft of the tripartite Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between the union ministry and forest departments of Gujarat and MP.”
Who is delaying the translocation is anybody’s guess now. The lion is said to be the pride of Gujarat and not the nation. Tomorrow, another State can come up and say tea is the pride of Assam and hence not national resource.
This hints at rising parochialism and not nationalism.
—— Amit Mittal—–