Saturday, September 22, 2007

Asiatic Lions: New reserve on the anvil


Asiatic Lions: New reserve on the anvil By Jay Mazoomdaar

Gujarat the only home of the Asiatic lion had until now not agreed to give any of them for a proposed sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, even though the lions in Gir were under threat from poachers, epidemics and natural disasters.

But now the Centre has prepared a fresh blueprint for a backup that won't require Gujarat to release any of its lions.

The 11-year wait for a second home for the endangered Asiatic lion at Kuno-Palpur in Madhya Pradesh will soon be over.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Central Zoo Authority have a fresh plan ready.

''We will select pure bred Gir lions from different zoos and these first generation lions will breed in a big natural enclosure which is already there at Kuno-Palpur. We will release herbivores for the second generation lions so that they can hunt and get naturalised. In this process, the third generation lions should be fit to be released in the wild outside the enclosure,'' said Dr Rajesh Gopal, Member Secretary, NTCA.

The blueprint will be discussed at the next meeting of the National Board for Wildlife on October 8. Once approved, it will be about four years before the third generation lions can be released in the wild.

But the initiative may raise eyebrows, considering India has opposed the Chinese model of releasing captive-bred tigers into the wild.

''We are identifying pure gene lions and they will be kept off display and bred in natural enclosures with prey species. And the tigers in Chinese farms are victims of severe inbreeding and can hardly be called tigers,'' said Dr B R Sharma, Member Secretary, CZA.

Kuno-Palpur was selected in 1996 as a second home for the lions but the Gujarat government refused to part with them. It was the threat to the lions in Gir that finally got the authorities moving.

''Forget poaching, even an epidemic can wipe out an isolated population. So the idea of a second reserve at Kuno but the Gujarat government never agreed. Now we don't need to wait for them anymore,'' said Dr Rajesh Gopal, Member Secretary, NTCA.

If all goes well, the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary will be the Asiatic lion's second home by 2011, unless the Modi government now objects to the very idea of having lions outside Gujarat.

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