No tigers in MP's Panna means Gir keeps lions' share, says Gujarat
Express India By Neha Sinha
Desperate to hold on to its monopoly as the last wild habitat of the Asiatic Lion, Gujarat has come up with new reasons to stall sharing its 'pride' with Madhya Pradesh.
The central Indian state, says Gujarat, has not done a very good job of conserving its tigers, citing the example of Panna Tiger Reserve, where the big cats have been completely wiped out — as was confirmed by MP Forest Minister Rajendra Shukla just this week.
In its response to a Supreme Court case that seeks to create a second habitat for Gujarat's Gir Sanctuary lions, the state has also argued that tigers and lions cannot coexist.
Gujarat's response was to a case filed by the Biodiversity Conservation Trust, which had pleaded that it is essential to translocate some of the Asiatic lions in case an epidemic or some other calamity invades the specie's single habitat in Gir.
This idea was earlier pushed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, and turned down repeatedly by Gujarat.
Now, to defend its stance, Gujarat has cited Madhya Pradesh's shaky record in conserving tigers as a reason for not parting with its lions.
The state has gone on record to cite the recent extinction of tigers from the Panna Tiger Reserve as a reason for "concern", justifying keeping its lions.
"The population of tigers was reducing in many parts of the country including Madhya Pradesh, while the Asiatic Lion population has increased from 177 in 1968 to more than 350 in 2005," the affidavit filed by the Gujarat Government says. "A newspaper report saying 'Experts Fear No Tigers Left in Panna', also indicates there is enough reason for concern," it goes on to state.
Gujarat has also noted in its affidavit that the "more opportunistic" tiger will not let lions flourish in the same habitat.
"With future effective conservation measures, the stated policy goal of tiger conservation, more tiger movements are likely to take place (in Kuno, the forest area proposed for the lions). This is a very serious issue which requires immediate consideration and with a possibility of serious conflict between the two top predators of similar capabilities in the one spatio-temporal frame," the affidavit says.
Experts, however, say that tigers and lions have always coexisted in India.
"Historically, lions and tigers have lived together in India. This is unique because the other species of lion are in Africa, which has no tigers," said National Tiger Conservation Authority Member Secretary Rajesh Gopal.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests had earlier asked the Wildlife Institute of India to identify a suitable habitat for resettlement of lions and Kuno — a 3,000 sq km reserve forest — was chosen. This was reiterated by the Population of Habitat Viability Analysis, an international group. With the project on the backburner for many years, the Central Zoo Authority has even chalked out a plan to introduce zoo-bred lions in Kuno. However, such a plan would take a long time to implement, as it would involve releasing a third generation of captive lions — gradually weaned away from human dependence — into the wild.
"Lions need to be moved from Gujarat. The argument of lions and tigers fighting in this case doesn't hold. As both are large predators, they will not co-occur in the same forest, but in the same region. Kuno does not have a large population of tigers, but only a small number of transient tigers from Ranthambhore. Extensions of the Gir sanctuary, which have been made in Mitiyala and Girnar do not protect from the threat of epidemic extension. The point is to create another population far away from Gir. Though Kuno can be improved as a habitat, it is still the best choice for relocation of lions in India," says Qamar Qureshi, from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
A scientific paper, which appeared in conservation journal Oryx in 2007, points out that an earlier attempt to translocate lions in India failed because it wasn't "monitored" enough. "An attempt to establish such a population in Chandraprabha Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh, in 1957 failed because of a lack of monitoring and the small size of the Sanctuary (96 sq km) and because lions moved outside the sanctuary, leading to conflicts with people and poisoning and poaching of the lions," said the paper.
The best move
Gujarat: The state insists that it has taken "adequate conservation steps" to protect its lions, including notifying the Mitiyala Sanctuary in 2004 and Girnar Sanctuary in 2008 as part of the Gir landscape.
Wildlife Institute of India: Extensions of the Gir sanctuary in Mitiyala and Girnar do not protect lions from the threat of an epidemic spreading to these areas. The point is to create another population far away from Gir.
A lesson from the past: An outbreak of canine distemper killed an estimated 30 per cent of the lion population in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park in 1994, notes the January 2007 edition of conservation journal Oryx. "If an epidemic of this scale were to affect the lions in Gir, it would be difficult to save them from extinction, given the much smaller area of the lion habitat and the considerably smaller population."
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