Monday, July 02, 2012

MP’s wait continues: For Gir lions and Karnataka jumbos

MP's wait continues: For Gir lions and Karnataka jumbos

Both the proposals — of shifting the Asiatic lion from the Gir forests in Gujarat and elephants from Karnataka — are stuck in courts. While Gujarat argues that there is no need for a second home to the Gir lions and that translocation to MP would make them vulnerable to poachers, NGOs in Karnataka say that translocated elephants would suffer the pangs of being separated from their family groups and that such a plan would result in degradation of the forests in that State. MP Forest Minister is, however, hopeful that the plan would come through, writes  Zafar Alam Khan

The Madhya Pradesh Government's proposed ambitious plan to translocate Asiatic Lions and elephants from Gujarat and Karnataka, respectively, is in doldrums. The Bharatiya Janata Party Government of the State has failed to persuade the same party ruled Gujarat and Karnataka Governments for the same. 'Viva city' tried to find out that what went wrong and why translocation of these animals still hangs in balance. Madhya Pradesh Government's efforts to translocate the animals could not be a pipe dream since the State has the largest area under forest cover as compared to other States of the country.

Madhya Pradesh Forest Minister Sartaj Singh while talking to 'Viva City' said, "The issues are pending in the court and we are hopeful that the verdict would go in our favour."

Notably, the decision to make Kuno-Palpur sanctuary near Gwalior a second home for the Asiatic lions was taken in 1990 by the Union Government on the advice of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) while shifting of 29 jumbos from Karnataka was almost imminent but in the last moments a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) played spoilsport and the translocation was stuck.

Gujarat opposes tooth and nail the plan for a second home for Asiatic lions at Kuno-Palpur sanctuary of Madhya Pradesh while the plan of getting elephants from Karnataka also suffered jolt as a plea against it was admitted in the Karnataka High Court.

The Karnataka High Court has asked the Union Government, the Animal Welfare Board of India, Principal Secretary to the Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment to file a counter affidavit against the petition on the translocation of elephants from the state.

The petition filed by the Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA) and the People For Animals (PFA) has alleged the State Government has decided to transfer 29 elephants to Madhya Pradesh. The NGOs cited a report in a section of the media stating that the Karnataka Government was planning to hand over captive elephants to Madhya Pradesh Government for use in safaris, and that 29 elephants had been identified for such a transfer.

The NGOs wrote letters to the principal conservator of forests objecting to the translocation of the elephants. Since the state government seemed keen on pursuing the transfers, the petitioners decided to approach the court.

The NGOs argued that the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 prohibits the sale of elephants. The elephants, if transferred, would be separated from family groups. The translocation of such a huge number of elephants would result in degeneration of the forest, since each elephant requires 250 kg of fodder every day. They are extremely vulnerable to tuberculosis when they come into contact with human beings.

The activists sought a direction from the court to issue a writ not to sell, transfer or translocate elephants from Karnataka. The State Government counsel has submitted that a decision had been taken not to translocate captive elephants to Madhya Pradesh or to any other part of the country.

While, in case of lions' transfer from Gujarat, a proposed second home for Asiatic lions has pitted the BJP-led State Governments of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh against each other. Gujarat, whose Gir sanctuary is the only abode for Asiatic lions, is upset with the plan to shift some of the big cats to the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary near Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, as decided in the late 1990s by the Union Government on the advice of the Wildlife Institute of India.

The issue came up for hearing in Supreme Court on May 1 this year on a petition by Biodiversity Conservation Trust, a wildlife NGO.

The Madhya Pradesh Government bluntly told the court that Gujarat's allegations that Madhya Pradesh forest officials were incapable of handling the lions and that there was poaching in the area and not enough prey base for the lions were baseless. The debate further escalated when the Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Department posted on its website that "Kuno has been selected as an alternative home for the endangered Asiatic lion, which is now confined only to the Gir National Park and Sanctuary of Gujarat." Gujarat claims it has done enough to protect the lions and that a second home for them is unnecessary. Not only has the number of Gir lions gone up to 411, the State Government has also added 400 sq km of grasslands and forests to the 1,400-sq-km sanctuary as part of its concept of Greater Gir. Gujarat forest officials also say the poachers who operate in Gir come from Katni in Madhya Pradesh, not very far from Kuno-Palpur, which means the proposed second home is no safer for the lions.

Gujarat's principal chief conservator of forests Pradeep Khanna said, "There is absolutely no need for shifting the lions out of Gujarat. The endangered species is more secure here than anywhere else."

Madhya Pradesh Forest Minister Sartaj Singh counters, "It is wrong to say lions won't be safe in Kuno-Palpur when Madhya Pradesh has done a good job of managing other national parks in the State which have tigers. Gujarat should understand that it is for the future benefit of the species that a second home is necessary."

Another Gujarat forest official reminds that the Wildlife Institute of India's recommendation to shift lions to Kuno-Palpur was itself a political decision as it was dominated at that time by officials from Madhya Pradesh. He adds that the second home strategy is flawed as Kuno-Palpur is just 344 sq km in area and the recommendation is for shifting only six lions.

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