Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Zoo-bred Asiatic lions for Madhya Pradesh jungles?

Zoo-bred Asiatic lions for Madhya Pradesh jungles?
Thaindian News By Sanjay

The king of the jungle may yet roam the forests of Madhya Pradesh, with the state now planning to borrow and breed zoo lions for the wild after Gujarat refused to part with its big cats of Gir.

Madhya Pradesh wants to create a new population of Asiatic lions with the help of the Delhi and Hyderabad zoos, an Indian forest service official said.

Efforts are on to get at least two pairs of Asiatic lions from zoos, use them for breeding and let loose their descendants in the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in Sehore district.

If the plan is successful, it will be India's first population of Asiatic lions outside the Gir forest of Gujarat.

"Once their numbers grow in the coming years, they will establish a secure breeding population," said the official.

He said Madhya Pradesh has already discussed its plan at the meeting of the National Wildlife Advisory Board held in Delhi Sep 16 under the chairmanship of the Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh.

"It is believed that zoos in New Delhi and Hyderabad have agreed to provide lions for breeding in Kuno-Palpur, after Gujarat refused to provide Gir lions that would allow Kuno-Palpur to become an alternate habitat for the Asiatic lion," said the official.

"Kuno-Palpur will begin as a breeding centre. As the breeding succeeds, the plan is to release the third generation of lions into the forest. Five pairs of lions will be released during a period of 10 years into Kuno-Palpur - a sanctuary that has been identified as an alternative habitat for the endangered Asiatic lion.

"We have already got the nod from Hyderabad from where we will soon be getting zoo-bred lions," the official told IANS.

Talks are also in progress with the Delhi Zoo authorities for relocating four lions from there to the Kuno-Palpur.

"The sanctuary should have a sizable number of big cats in the next 10-15 years. A special team of veterinary experts would be appointed to take care of the new inmates," he added.

The Dehradun-based Wildlife Research Institute has for long felt that the 1,400-sq km Gir forest in Gujarat, with its population of over 325 big cats, was too small for housing such a large number of animals.

It also feels that the concentration of the entire lion population at one place exposes it to the danger of being wiped out by disease or natural calamity.

The institute zeroed in on the 344-sq km Kuno-Palpur sanctuary and launched the Asiatic Lions Reproduction Project, a Rs.640-million ($15-million) centrally funded scheme.

It envisaged tranquillising the animals and transporting them by air from Gir to Kuno-Palpur, where they were to be housed in a pre-release centre for acclimatization.

Gujarat, however, flatly refused to part with its prized lions, saying any new site should be natural and not an artificially created one. Gujarat's forest officials also did not rule out a tiger-lion conflict in Kuno-Palpur since the two can never co-exist in the same place.

Madhya Pradesh's Chief Conservator of Forests, H.S. Pabla, however, rules out any such threat, saying: "The new habitat at Kuno-Palpur was chosen as the most apt second home for the Asiatic lion after scientific deliberation based on several parameters."

The sanctuary is home to Royal Bengal tigers, leopards, wolves and other species of wild animals.

Forest department sources say Kuno-Palpur, with its windswept grasslands punctuated with trees and low shrubs, is a perfect habitat for the lions which, unlike tigers, move around in prides - each comprising up to 14 animals - and prefer grasslands with low shrubs.

They pointed out that the abundant water supply, grass cover to support the prey base and a minimal impact on human settlements were the other factors that favoured Kuno-Palpur over other sanctuaries.

(Sanjay Sharma can be contacted at

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