Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gujarat retains its ‘pride’, foils MP move to acquire big cats

Gujarat retains its 'pride', foils MP move to acquire big cats
Express India

Gujarat has once again foiled a move by Madhya Pradesh to get a few Asiatic lions shifted from Sasan Gir to Kuno Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in the neighbouring state. Besides, it has also succeeded in eliciting an assurance from the Centre that no Gir lions should be transferred to Madhya Pradesh until wildlife experts give their opinion on this contentious issue.

The issue of proposed translocation of Gir lions, which came up for discussion at the National Board for Wildlife meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday, triggered heated exchanges between the representatives of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The Gujarat side was represented by Principal Secretary (Forest) S K Nanda and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) Pradeep Khanna, while Madhya Pradesh was represented by Additional Chief Secretary ( Forest ) and PCCF (Wildlife).

"When the Madhya Pradesh officials pressed for the shifting of Gir lions to Kuno Palpur, we vehemently opposed it and told Union Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh, who chaired the meeting, that Gujarat was not prepared to transfer the big cats to MP," Khanna told Newsline over the phone from New Delhi this evening.

Khanna and Nanda told the meeting that Asiatic lions could not be translocated to Kuno Palpur sanctuary, as there is a lack of social support to lions from the local community. Besides, the climatic conditions there are not congenial for the lions. They added that the presence of tigers there would cause frequent clashes between the two apex predators over territories.

They also impressed upon the Board members that Gujarat has initiated concerted measures to conserve and protect Asiatic lions in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, and the State Forest Department has even expanded the home territory of the big cats and improved their habitat. Besides, the local community in and around the Gir sanctuary has lent social support to the lions.

Countering this, the MP representatives contended that their government has already taken up a Centre-aided Rs 24 crore "Asiatic Lion Introduction Project" to accommodate some Gir lions in the 344 sq km Kuno Palpur sanctuary, adding that 24 villages on the periphery have been relocated under the project.

The heated exchanges between the two sides forced Jairam Ramesh to intervene. Quoting Ramesh, Khanna said, "The Union Minister endorsed Gujarat's views on the issue, and stressed the need for a detailed technical examination of the matter. He assured us that the Centre will seek the opinions of experts, which along with the views expressed by both Gujarat and MP, will be incorporated in a report to be submitted to the Supreme Court".

The Union Minister also assured Gujarat that if necessary another round of meeting will be held to discuss the issue of shifting Gir lions to Kuno Palpur.

Incidentally, Madhya Pradesh's move to introduce zoo-bred lions in Kuno Palpur sanctuary came in for criticism from wildlife experts at the meeting.

The MP Forest Department had recently mooted plans to obtain some pairs of lions from zoos in Hyderabad and Delhi for breeding in the sanctuary.

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