Veteran foresters blame trust deficit for discord
When Gujarat's veteran foresters recollect the long-standing disagreement over the Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project (to Madhya Pradesh), they say they were neither consulted nor shown the chosen sites in MP, and that foresters from that state never studied the conservation techniques employed here.
This led to a trust deficit among Gujarat's officers, who declined to hand over the endangered carnivores they had always been charged with protecting. By the time the present heads of the department took over, hardly one meeting had taken place, called by director general of forests, government of India, forest officials of MP and Gujarat, and others, when a petition landed the issue in the Supreme Court.
The debate is back in focus after the apex court on Tuesday observed the lions belong to the country and not to Gujarat, though they are found only here.
"Yes, there are many lions and they should be relocated but not in the way presently proposed. This is not the way," said Sanat Chavan, a former principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) who spent a considerable part of his career in the Gir area — Asiatic lion's last abode.
Not consulting Gujarat's foresters meant the plans never factored in the role Gir's maldharis had played in conserving the predators, and never studied if a similar environment existed in the neighboring state, he said.
Lions are 'human-friendly' and tend to move in groups even through human habitation, but under normal circumstances, do not attack unless provoked.
"The maldharis of Gir know this and so they do not provoke the big cats, meaning there are fewer man-animal conflicts," said G A Patel, also a former PCCF who was chief wildlife warden when the plans were being formulated by a committee.
Patel said he was invited to attend the committee's meetings only after alternative sites had been decided on. He raised objections then and afterward as well, questioning whether there was enough prey base in a place where tigers already exist, or if the locals would welcome the carnivores, or if the temperature would be suitable at the alternative site which, even by then, he had not even been shown.
"Was the alternate site good enough? I had not even seen the site. How could I allow lions to be relocated there without even seeing the site?" he said.