Thursday, February 14, 2008

Gene pools to conserve Asiatic lions


Gene pools to conserve Asiatic lions

Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

GANDHINAGAR: In a bid to strengthen its case of not shifting Gir’s Asiatic lions to Madhya Pradesh, the state government has initiated a move to create three gene pools to conserve the genetic diversity of this endangered wild cat.

Pradeep Khanna, additional principal chief conservator of forest, said that creating these gene pools was a part of a long-term planning to save the Asiatic lions. One gene pool each will be formed in Rampara Virdi, about 40 km from Rajkot, in Sakkarbaugh Zoo of Junagadh and Hingolgadh in Jasdan taluka of Rajkot district.

"There are two ways of conservation - one, within the environment and second, bringing the animal out of the environment and conserving the genetic diversity. The gene pool will have 10 to 20 animals per pool," said Khanna.

These pools will help in conserving lions outside the protected environment. The move has also been necessitated considering the fact that if the entire population of Asiatic lions is confined to just one area, they would be highly vulnerable to any kind of biological, climactic or man-made catastrophe. A major disaster within the Gir could wipe out the entire subspecies at a stroke.

Likewise, a disease outbreak could decimate the lion population. Measures are also being taken to correct a little known biological imbalance concerning the Asiatic lion.

They said that around 50 wild cats would be shifted to these gene pools. This would again ease the burden on Gir sanctuary, which has around 359-odd lions. The capacity of Gir was just 250-270-odd lions and with these three gene pools, it would definitely reduce the burden. Officials said that the gene pools would also be a breeding ground for the Asiatic lions and there is a possibility that 10-12 pairs of animals would be kept in these gene pools.

The Central government is already pressing hard for shifting the lions from Gir to Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.

Requesting anonymity, forest department officials said that the decision to create gene pools was taken by the department to counter Centre’s move to shift the lions from Gujarat.

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