Lions safe, but vulnerable due to Gujarati pride: US
Times of India
Right from poaching to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi's enthusiasm for the big cats' conservation, US diplomats have shown deep interest in the efforts made by the state. During several visits here, the foreign diplomats met state forest officials and sent detailed notes on lions in Gir. Many such documents sent from Mumbai consulate and Delhi US embassy were leaked by the whistleblower website Wikileaks.
A 2008 Wikileaks cable titled 'Wildlife Conservation In India's Gujarat State Yields Impressive Dividends But Pride Leaves Lions Exposed' reads: "Although Gujarat exemplifies what political will, education, and effective enforcement can do to protect wildlife, the justifiable pride Gujaratis feel in their conservation efforts stands in the way of ensuring the continued viability of the Asiatic lion. Despite the scientific evidence, with which they openly agree, Gujarat's wildlife officials maintain that only Gujaratis can protect the lion."
The cable adds that a senior forest official and an IPS officer claimed that the reason for the success was the keen personal interest and intervention of CM Narendra Modi which led to an "unusual level of interdepartmental cooperation between the forest department and the Gujarat police". The forest official informed an US embassy official that Modi personally attends forest department meetings with local communities to sort out complaints and issues.
The cable says: "Strong and palpable positivism of Gujaratis towards wildlife is also thanks in part to religious sentiments and the culture of vegetarianism as 80% of all Gujaratis are vegetarian, including the Maldhari community that resides inside GNP. According to deputy forest officer Raja, when a lion does kill a villager's livestock, the villager considers it an offering. Raja noted the forest department's longstanding and efficiently implemented policy of quickly paying compensation to the villager also helps to reduce villager retribution against lions."
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