ZOOS’ PRINT July 2007 Article 1: Editorial (Pp. 1-2)
The Asiatic lion story - far from resolution and a happy ending - is so fraught with human folly and human selfishness at almost every level of the concerned governments, NGO's, scientists, services, departments and other stakeholders, not just within India but also throughout the world. This editorial will only give the few examples which have come to this writer as a conservation activer (activer, not activist) and a hybrid of Indian and American outlook and thinking. I have made mistakes in whatever small works I have done with respect to the Asiatic Lion and will admit these mistakes in an attempt to make amends by way of apology but also to gain the privledge of pointing out what I believe to be serious mistakes of others! These mistakes which I know about from my experiences are probably just the tip of the iceberg but still, it is good to air them at this juncture.
The other material I have included in this issue of ZOOS’ PRINT are past history and possible future which may provide food for thought. There is material in last issue also to which I will refer and which might bear pondering.
My first project that involved Asiatic lion issues was in Mysore Zoo in 1983, when Dr. Nan Schaeffer came on a USFWS sponsored trip to demonstrate semen collection to a group of vets in New Delhi. I was running the Friends of Mysore Zoo then and Mysore Zoo had a lot of (hybrid) lions. I knew about the hybrid issue for Asiatic and African lions but not how it came about. When a letter came, offering Dr. Schaeffer’s services, to Mysore Zoo I ran to the Director and suggested we organise a workshop, simply for scientific interest and it was done. The day Mr. Krishne Gowda and I were to go to the airport and pick up Dr. Schaeffer, one of our lionesses gave birth to four cubs and there was nowhere to house them. She had become pregnant from one of her last litter with whom she still shared quarters. They were given to a volunteer for hand-rearing (the euthanasia of that day) and we went off to pick up Dr. Nan. On the way I suggested that we ask her to vasectomise our male lions since they had to be knocked down for semen collection anyway, pointing out our space problem and the fact that they were all surely hybrids. Krishne Gowda agreed. And it was done, producing a fascinating workshop and getting the issue of hybrid lions, biotechnology, birth control for zoo animals, etc. in to national state and local press. When certain politicos in
I admit to this being a mistake of mine as, perhaps with better transmission of information to the Ministries and press, it might not have been so misunderstood. Then again, it might have just been that some politician wanted an issue that day. Nontheless, my already established reputation for doing good things which went awry got a shot in the arm.
The problem of hybrid lions and the very easy fix of vasectomisation bothered me, because instead of encouraging zoos to stop breeding these hybrids it simply did nothing. Zoos were afraid to vasectomise, partly because of the controversy because Trivandrum Zoo did it later and also generated a Parliament question; partly because management was afraid of an accidental death; and partly because they didn’t take sub-species seriously.
Meanwhile the American and European zoos, being seized of the matter of about 300 Asiatic lions (wild and assumed to be pure ones) in a single, somewhat limited in area and highly populated habitat, being rather seriously at risk, were establishing breeding programmes for Asiatic Lions and trying to get founders from Indian Zoos. It seems that Trivandrum Zoo supplied lions to a couple of zoos in
In organising the PHVA I approached the then Chief Wildlife Warden of the Gujarat Forest Department requesting that The Department approve our plan for a PHVA and be our partner and collaborator. This is the established policy of CBSG. He refused! He said “we can work it all out ourselves.” And this is quite true but I was on a
The Asiatic Lion PHVA Executive Summary/Recommendations are included in this issue and you will see that the work-shop covered many important issues pertaining to Asiatic Lion. Current Minister of Environment, GOI, was very interested and immediately acted on the recommdation for an alternative habitat with WII assessing the recommended areas. Committees were formed, activity began, feathers got ruffled.
I began getting calls from some of the forest officers from
It is for this reason, I believe, that
Now, the Government of Gujarat has stated categorically that no lions will be given for the project or any related project but will be protected right in the state.
Although I believe that it is crucial to have an alternative habitat(s) which could resist the onslaught of a crippling disease event, I have much sympathy with the Government of Gujarat. The head of government there has a terrible situation ... on the one hand, the possible survival of the Asiatic Lion could be compromised by retaining all animals in the same or even nearby localities. On the other hand, I have been told that there are individuals and possibly groups in
I have a bizarre idea which might make the Gujaratis feel more secure about their continued role in the future of the lion they have loved and tried so hard to protect and that is for the Government of Gujarat, if indeed it is legal or possible to do so, to apply for the patent on the genome of Asiatic Lion. We all know the lion belongs to all
Yes, I know. The Asiatic lion is a global treasure as is every species. We think like that. But those who do not belong to
Whatever mistakes I made in forcing the PHVA when indicators were strong that it was not the right time and in trying to take on tasks that might been better handled by other organisations, I deeply regret. Inaction frustrates me to the point of foolhardiness at times. In these past, current and future issues of ZPM I will try and make information available that will help our readers get a fuller picture of the possibilities and problems of this burning issue.
Editor Emeritus, ZOOS’ PRINT Magazine