Thursday, April 25, 2013

Need to extend Asiatic lion's geographical limits: M K Ranjitsinh

Need to extend Asiatic lion's geographical limits: M K Ranjitsinh
Business Standard

Interview with chairman, Wildlife Trust of India

The Supreme Court has allowed the translocation of the Asiatic lions from Gir in Gujarat to the Palpur Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. Avantika Bhuyan talks to M K Ranjitsinh, chairman, Wildlife Trust of India, about the need for a second home and it suitability

Why has it been decided to shift some of the Asiatic lions to Madhya Pradesh?
Forty years ago too, when I was a member secretary of the Indian Board of Wildlife, a committee had been appointed to look for a second home for the lions outside Gujarat as a safeguard. Having the entire population restricted to Gir and Girnar is risky. What if there was an epidemic or contagion; it could wipe out the entire number. The canine distemper in Tanzania, for example, had led to the death of 400 lions in Serengeti. Moreover, why should the Asiatic lion not be restored to its original habitat? Nearly 125 years ago, lions were found in Madhya Pradesh and before that in Rajasthan. Gradually they got restricted to Gir. The move will benefit Kuno as well. When you shift an animal of such charisma, it has a cascading effect on the entire area. More personnel will have to be appointed which will help in better preservation of the area and of other endangered species. I am a great believer in restoring the apex species as it helps the entire ecosystem.

Is the move adequate to save the Asiatic lion from extinction?
This shift is an additional safeguard; it can't be a substitute for other conservation effort. The Gujarat government will have to continue to protect the main population in Gir. In recent years, the Gujarat government has undertaken considerable conservation efforts. Previously, lions that used to stray out of Gir would run foul of the local people, would get poisoned or get run down by vehicles. The ones that were found would be taken back to Gir. However, in recent years, lions that strayed have been allowed to form colonies outside of Gir and safeguards have been put in place to protect them. In some places, the government has extended the protected area to create a sanctuary. Large-scale recruitment of field staff has also taken place. The chief minister himself is taking a personal interest and that really helps the conservation efforts.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has said that when the Madhya Pradesh government is unable to protect the tigers in Panna, how will it protect the Asiatic lions? Your thoughts.
Protecting the lions at Kuno will become a prestige issue for the MP government. Media attention will also keep people on their toes. I feel that this is a risk worth taking. The situation in the state is much better now with considerable increase in anti-poaching efforts. In recent times, the number of prey animals has also increased. When there is enough prey for the lion, the animal-human conflict also go down. There has also been an increase in recruitment. The world's attention is focused on Kuno and I think they will be vigilant. There will always be some casualties and conflicts but one needs to extend the geographical limits of the Asiatic lion.

The Supreme Court has, as of now, not allowed the African cheetah from Namibia to be introduced in India.
The cheetah is an animal that we have lost in the past. Very few Asiatic cheetahs are left in Iran. There was a nice piece of habitat which was lying unutilised in Kuno, which, after considerable fieldwork, was found to be suitable for the cheetah. And it's not that the lion and the cheetah can't coexist. If you check Mughal records, some 200 years ago, the lion, cheetah, tiger and leopard used to coexist in one place. However, the Supreme Court feels that priority should be accorded to the Asiatic lion and other endangered species. So I don't think that the reintroduction of the cheetah will happen.

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