Battle for the jungle king is fast hotting up
Khaleejtimes By Mahesh Trivedi
March 19 could be the D-day for the 411 lions of Gujarat's Gir forest. The Supreme Court has summoned officials of the Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh (MP) as well as the National Board for Wildlife in India as it was likely to give its ruling over shifting of the big cats from its only abode near Junagadh.
The relations between the two Bharatiya Janata party-ruled states have been on the downward slope ever since MP made an aggressive demand for relocating some of the rare Asiatic lions to its Kuno Palpur sanctuary for which it has already made elaborate arrangements and spent millions of rupees.
Gujarat has been vehemently opposing the idea saying it did not want to lose its 'Gujarati pride' at any cost. Indeed, at a meeting chaired by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, state wildlife experts strengthened their resolve to protect the jungle king and vowed not to share even a few of them with MP under any circumstances.
According to Sanat Chavan, a former principal chief conservator of forests who has spent several years in the 1450-square-km, leafy Gir wildlife sanctuary, MP has a very limited prey base and poaching incidents are the order of the day. What's more, while readying the Kuno park, Gujarat officials, who have been praised for their best conservation efforts, have neither been consulted nor invited for a visit to see the site chosen.
Also, now that the debt-ridden, state-run Tourism Corporation of Gujarat has been coining money due to massive influx of animal lovers into Gir following brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan's publicity campaign, many believe the cash-strapped Modi regime was unlikely to agree to any plan for relocation of the majestic animals.
The Planning Commission has itself approved a project for the "Conservation of Asiatic lion in Greater Gir Region" to be implemented by the Gujarat government by 2017 at a cost of Rs2.6 billion, including the Central assistance of Rs2.3 billion, and the project also includes creation of infrastructure for the promotion of eco-tourism in the Gir forest.
But according to MP, keeping all the endangered lions in only one place was putting the dumb denizens into a death trap as an epidemic could wipe out the entire population of this last remaining species.
MP has also argued that the predators are outgrowing the claustrophobic forest and have nowhere to go, often resulting in attacks on human beings in the villages on the periphery of the jungle.
MP has won half the battle when the apex court recently observed that the carnivores are not the "property" of the state, but belong to the country, adding that no state could claim the right over an animal merely because it is housed in a particular state.
The National Board for Wildlife in India is also in favour of shifting a few prides of the Asiatic lions, much smaller than their African cousins, if only to maintain genetic diversity.
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