SHOULD GUJARAT PROVIDE WILD LIONS TO MADHYA PRADESH?
By Lavkumar Khachar
After perusing the papers provided me by the Chief Wildlife Warden and Member Secretary of the Gujarat State Board for Wildlife, my very considered opinion is a firm "No"!
Considering the very poor levels of understanding and management of wild animals among the Forest Departments of India, the Kuno Project is over ambitious and under no circumstances should the Gujarat Government be coerced into agreeing to translocation of a single wild lion let alone a full pride. Attention need to be focused on the fact that this is not a matter of giving wild lions on a one time basis but to continue supplying animals for an ongoing "experiment" in which the aging males at Kuno being consigned to zoos!! This would infact mean that the Gujarat Wildlife Department would be associated as bystanders of a project that is being managed, or mismanaged, by an agency not answerable to Gujarat. This is untenable.
If this is to be a prestigious National Project, Gujarat must be an equal partner and the project should be on a scope that associates each and every aspect of the species' conservation. The time for initiating isolated action is long past. Gujarat's own program of Lion Conservation is being progressively scripted by the Lions themselves along with the human communities of Sorath and the entire spotlight should be concentrated on the drama unfolding. All national and international interest must be concentrated on the unique developments around the Gir National Park and the proposed "Brihad" Larger Gir. To complement this trend setting development, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan (the other potential Lion holding State) should start evolving programs involving the education of local communities in accepting large carnivores free ranging in an otherwise human dominated countryside. If anything, Gujarat should consider developing a Mega Lion Rehabilitation Project conceptualizing a systematic effort at repopulating wild lions across the classical range.
For such a wide vista, it may be argued that the translocation as suggested for Madhya Pradesh would be a learning experience. To this, I would point out that the "learning process" needs to be started by developing satellite habitats in the more responsive surroundings of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat itself and the Gujarat Wildlife Department developing necessary expertise to power the wider dispersal of the species. Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and the rest must wait for the total success of the expansion of the core lion range and in the development of more efficient captive breeding and holding facilities. If anything, the Government of India should consider coming to working understandings with some of the highly successful zoos in the US and Europe. A concentration of resources both financial and human are a must specially so when there is so little available in the country.
Considering the above points, Gujarat should request the Honorable Supreme Court to issue strong and specific Directives to:
The Government of India to
• Sharpen wildlife conservation conceptualizing at the National level delineating areas of involvement by respective State Governments and other concerned agencies.
• Develop state of the art captive breeding programs for prioritized endangered species including lions, tigers, Great Indian Bustards, Narcondam Hornbills, etc.
• Provide liberal financial resources for research and developing experienced cadres to carry forward ambitious programs.
• Initiate strict and ruthless action to eliminate poaching mafia before which it would seem Madhya Pradesh and other tiger holding States of the country are helpless. This may necessitate a highly trained, and armed force with commando type training!
The Madhya Pradesh Government to
• Provide proof to the Court that all the prestigious National Parks and Sanctuaries within its jurisdiction are indeed efficiently managed and that there is scope for the expanding population to have safe interface with the human populations around.
• Initiate a vigorous environment education program to generate the sort of Nature Club network existing in Gujarat specially in the Saurashtra region.
The Gujarat Government to
• Develop a blue print for Lion Conservation as a globally threatened species.
• Ser up several Gene Pool breeding Centres with plans to maintaining stud books that would stand rigorous international scientific scrutiny.
• Upgrade Captive Breeding and Holding spaces in Gujarat zoos.
• Identify and initiate satellite areas for free ranging populations outside the Brihad Gir area.
• Draw up an all inclusive plan for the Brihad Gir to involve all arms of Government and the communities within the area.
• Set up a Special Lion Task force.
• Develop a core Intellectual Cell to guide and oversee the training of managerial skills for the potential National Project for the safe guarding of the future of the Asiatic Lion.
In Conclusion, for reference of their Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court, my credentials are equal to if not marginally higher than, those of all the Members of the National Board for Wildlife and my considered advise to all concerned is not to "experiment" with the translocation of potentially dangerous predators that may result in loss of human lives and the possible necessitating the killing of a valuable animal, nor should the lime light be taken off the success story that the coexistence of a major predator like the Asiatic Lion with human communities is the Sorath region of Gujarat is. And, finally, nothing should be done to affect the pride and sentiments of the people whose involvement is an example that will be of prime necessity for all conservation action in a densely populated country like India. Kuno, if at all, should be considered as a distant spin off possibility of the Gujarat developments.
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