Saturday, February 23, 2013

Budget: Rs 2-crore aid for ‘endangered’ Asiatic lions

Budget: Rs 2-crore aid for 'endangered' Asiatic lions
Indian Express

The fund will be used for DNA sampling of dead and captured lions. Express archive

Part of the Rs 930 crore allotted by the state budget to the Environment & Forest (E&F) Department will go towards DNA mapping of Asiatic Lions, the endangered subspecies of lions which live in the forests of Saurashtra.

The state's Chief Wildlife Warden, C N Pandey, said Rs 2 crore was allotted to fund DNA sampling of Asiatic Lions, captured or found dead, so that a database could be kept to monitor the species' genetic health. Samples would also be collected from captive lions.

The project in partnership with the Gujarat State Bio-Technology Mission (GSBTM) has already begun with some equipment being purchased. "The project will help us study and understand if there is any genetic depression in the species," Pandey said.

Conservationists around the world have long argued it is unsafe to maintain just one population of wild Asiatic Lions because the species' genetic diversity remains constricted. The more genetically diverse a species, the better its chances of survival, while less diversity increases chances of mass deaths or serious illnesses.

"The Asiatic lion currently exists as a single sub-population, and is thus vulnerable to extinction from unpredictable events, such as an epidemic or large forest fire," says the latest assessment of the species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, dated 2008.

The assessment, noting the successful conservation efforts in the state, put the species under the "endangered" category from its earlier status of being "critically endangered".

The Gujarat government has resisted a proposed Asiatic Lion Translocation project to the Kuno Palpur Wildlife sanctuary in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, arguing it is unsafe to shift a species that numbers only 411, to a region where poaching is rampant as at least one sanctuary has already lost all its tigers to poachers.

Also Gir, the last abode of the Asiatic Lions, attracts lakhs of tourists each year and serves as a massive revenue generator. Gujarat-based conservationists also argue human populations in lion habitats in the area are friendly towards the species and have been actively aiding the conservation measures.

Crocodile Park in Vadodara gets nod

The budgetary allocation to the E&F Department has also sanctioned the establishment of a Crocodile Park in Vadodara, where the Mugger species are found in the Vishwamitri river.

The last Mugger census there in 2010 had found 200 crocodiles within stretches of the river that falls within Vadodara city limits, but Raju Vyas, a herpetologist who has studied them for decades, says the population is "definitely increasing."

C N Pandey, the state's wildlife warden, said the proposed crocodile park would undertake research, breeding and rescue operations.

Muggers are among eight of 23 known crocodilian species known for unprovoked attacks on humans.

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