Friday, March 07, 2008

A (Asiatic) LION'S SHARE



Times of India Ahmedabad By: Rajat Ghai (

The state government has sanctioned a Rs 40-crore scheme to initiate measures to protect Gir’s lions. But is it enough? AT pops the question to conservationists….

Coming on the heels of the public uproar about inaction for conserving Gir’s Asiatic Lions, the Gujarat government has announced a Rs 40-crore scheme for the next five years for taking steps to solve the Gir conundrum. Of the total amount, the government has allocated Rs 12 crore in the budget for the current financial year, 2008-09.

    “We should congratulate the government for focusing on such an important issue,” says conservationist Belinda Wright, Wildlife Protection Society of India, New Delhi. Similarly, Y V Jhala, faculty at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun and a leading expert on the Indian Wolf, too appreciates the move. “The government should be applauded since it shows their commitment towards conserving the species,” he says.

    But, is it enough? “It will work if implemented well,” says Jhala. Agrees Wright, “Money alone cannot save the Asiatic Lion. This injection of funds should be monitored closely, under proper leadership and right enforcement of laws.” Snehal Bhatt, head, Gujarat Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (GSPCA) remarks, “If spent properly and effectively, it is enough. But the problem lies there. There is no will among state forest authorities, especially the top brass to carry out such schemes properly. For instance, the Rs 12 crore sanctioned should be put to use immediately. Usually though, the funds are not properly channelised and end up in the wrong hands. Also, the higher-ups should encourage the lower staff materially and legally. Gir has some of India’s best forest guards. But they are usually equipped with sticks as compared to poachers who have the latest firearms and motorbikes. Forest guards should similarly be equipped with vehicles, weapons and most importantly, the permission to use such weapons.”

    Mumbai-based conservationist Bittu Sahgal, begs to differ. “The amount is not by far enough. These are the world’s last Asiatic Lions. This annual budget for Gir is less than money sanctioned for a 10 km stretch of highway. History will not forgive this generation of politicians for their lack of vision and their callous attitude to the natural heritage of tomorrow.”

    But, should similar schemes be introduced for the state’s other species? “All of natural Gujarat is crying out for protection, from the Little Rann of Kutch’s wild asses and the Great Rann’s flamingoes, to Velavadar’s Blackbucks and the Dangs’ wildlife, which used to have tigers just ten years back, but lost them to sightless politicians who measure progress in dollars and cents,” says Sahgal. “We need more such schemes, for crocodiles (across Gujarat), sloth bears in the Ratanmahal Sloth Bear Sanctuary (Dahod district) and leopards (state-wide),” says Bhatt. “More than lions, it is the Bustard that needs immediate attention. It is on the brink,” says Jhala. Kamlesh Maurya, WII researcher on wolves in Naliya, Kutch, too advocates the same, “Most of Kutch’s wildlife resides in unprotected areas. We especially need to concentrate on the Bustard before it’s too late.”

    Ultimately though, the key to conservation, says Sahgal, lies with citizens more than the political class or bureaucracy. “Yes, bureaucratic wrangles and red tape do cause obstacles. But the real obstacle is that we have no place in our hearts and minds for wild nature, which adds nothing to our GDP unless our trees are cut, or wetlands are filled, or coastlines are destroyed.”

Now, if only we can pay attention to that…

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