Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Asiatic Lion roar in Gir; Rs 60-cr project to conserve lions

State mulls setting up 3 gene pools, new habitats to help breed more of the endangered Asiatic lion

Ahmedabad, December 6: It’s some roaring good news for animal lovers worried about the endangered Asiatic lion. The State Forest Department has mooted a Rs 60-crore project under which it proposes to set up gene pools to conserve the genetic diversity of Asiatic lions of Gir forest and its surrounding areas. A detailed project proposal was sent to the government on Wednesday.

The department has requested the government to include the proposal in next year’s budget and has plans to implement this proposed Rs 60-crore lion conservation project in the next five years, which also includes creating new areas for the habitation of big cats. At a recent meeting of the State Wildlife Advisory Board held in Gandhinagar, Chief Minister Narendra Modi had suggested setting up such gene pools for the conservation of Asiatic lions.

Confirming this, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Pradeep Khanna told Newsline that his department proposed to set up at least three gene pools or banks— one each in Junagadh, Bhavnagar and Rajkot districts — for which separate funds would be earmarked and special technical staff recruited.

Khanna said that under the proposed project, about 30 lions and lionesses would be picked up from the Gir National Park and Sanctuary and kept in semi-captive condition at these three places where efforts would be made to conserve their genes through breeding. Not only this, new habitation areas for Asiatic lions will be created in the eastern region of Gir, including Jessar, Palitana and Mahuva under the conservation project.

“The Asiatic lion found only in Gir is an endangered species. And the concept of setting up such pools or banks will not only help us conserve the genetic diversity of rare big cats, but also maintain their population when their number further shoots up in future,” the Wildlife official said, adding that the population of Gir lions is at present 359.

A member of the National Wildlife Board G A Patel said such gene pools, when set up, would help maintain the population of Gir lions in case their population was threatened by an epidemic like situation in future. In fact, the Hyderabad-based Centre for Chromosome Molecular Biology (CCMB) is already carrying out detailed analysis of genes of endangered species like tigers and lions, and Gujarat could seek the help of CCMB experts in setting up gene pools to preserve the Asiatic lion’s progeny, said Patel who recently retired as the State Chief Wildlife Warden.


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