WHAT ABOUT THE LION REHABILITATION
The Asiatic Lion, which migrated from Asia Minor, Iraq, Iran, Bulgaria through Afghanistan, Pakistan into India, ultimately settled in GIR Forests of Gujarat. They have settled in GIR and surrounding areas only because of strong support by erstwhile NAWAB of Junagadh and later on by Gujarat Forest Department and more important population around GIR, over hundred (100) villages. These villagers by now know that Lion is not a WANTEN killer like many other large predators. To some extent one can think of them as Noble Large Carnivore, who, by now, does not consider human being as its enemy. There have been several incidences where men have disturbed the Lions, they have not killed the man, but slightly injured him or greatly frightened him. In one case, to be specific, a farmer of North of GIR had thrown stone at Lion sitting in his cultivated field. Lion instead of killing him or even injuring him had just sat over the body of farmer for nearly half an hour, these goes to show that Lions do not consider humans as their natural enemy and just means to frighten him.
These habits of Lion are well understood by the population around GIR and whenever they encounter a Lion or Lions enters their villages, they immediately inform Forest Department at Sasan for taking them back in the forest- by either caging or by tranquilizing them
So when we read about proposed project to translocate some of the GIR Lions to Kuno Palpur, we need to think about or study, why Lions have survived in GIR and surrounding areas. When the selection of Kuno Palpur was made for rehabilitation of Lions, no thought was given to these aspects of Lion behaviour and attitude of surrounding population, when the project was prepared, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, they did not consult Gujarat Forest Department- including officers who had served in GIR for longer time.
When the project was launched, Madhya Pradesh Government and Government of India started instructing us to send Lions. Till now there's been no visit from Madhya Pradesh Forest Department to study Lions, their habitats, their behaviour, etc.
Another surprising thing occurred when this controversy was going on, Director Kuno Palpur(Conservator of Forest) came on one of the popular Television channel and very proudly mentioned that "THIS WILL BE FIRST TIME IN THE WORLD, WHEN YOU CAN SEE LIGERS AND TIGEONS, MOVING FREELY IN WILD IN KUNO PALPUR". Is this the "Conservation and Management of Wild Carnivores"?
Area of Kuno Palpur, as I believe is less than 400 sq. kms, which is much less than the required area, with prey base and free of disturbance. I have observed Lions local migration (in and around GIR) usually they require anything between 70 sq. kms for a male and pride, to about 200 sq. kms for a group of 3 males together. Moreover, periodically they do drift outside Sanctuary limits for few days, before returning back to their home range. When outside Sanctuary, they will visit village areas sit in cultivated fields (preferably in sugarcane field). People around GIR understood Lion behaviour not disturbing them and inform Forest Department. I do not know what will be the reaction of surrounding village population in Kuno Palpur?
There was a case in which a Lioness had moved out of GIR Sanctuary, from Devaliya-Amrapur route to Malia-Hatina village in the evening. On outskirts of Malia Hatina village, in railway mukadams house, about 20 people were sitting and watching a "Brahmachari" movie on Television. Lioness entered the inner room and kept standing at the door. People watching Television in darkness were frighten, but sat quietly without a sound, Lioness stood there for over five minutes, watched sitting people and went out of the door. I am afraid, something like this happens around Kuno Palpur, what will happen?
Surprisingly Kuno Palpur forest officers should have visited GIR, several time, discussed finer points of Lion behaviour and GIR staff could visit Kuno Palpur and offer some tips, hints to local staff, after seeing local situation there. More important according to me is to take villagers around Kuno Palpur to visit villages around GIR to leave personal interaction and understanding as to what situation may arise in the new habitat. Just translocating Lions to Kuno Palpur, as if they are being shifted to a Safari park will not be sufficient.
There should more interaction between GIR and Kuno, for successful interaction.
Also what about tiger presence around Kuno Palpur, not very far from Lions? How will both Carnivores react to each other? As such Kuno is comparatively smaller area for successful rehabilitation.
Dr. Sanat A. Chavan. IFS
Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, (Retd.)
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