Wednesday, April 17, 2013

SC orders Gujarat to give lions to Madhya Pradesh

SC orders Gujarat to give lions to Madhya Pradesh
The Times of India

Gujarat will lose its status as the world's only home for wild Asiatic lions. Supreme Court on Monday ordered that some of the lions should be moved to Kuno wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, brushing aside Narendra Modi government's passionate resistance to the move.

The court asked the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to take urgent steps for reintroduction of a small number of lions to Kuno from Gir on the ground that the highly-endangered species needed to be dispersed to eliminate the risk of extinction in case of an epidemic outbreak.

The court said the relocation exercise should be undertaken under the watch of a multi-member expert body and should be completed in six months.

Responding to Gujarat government's argument that lions should not be moved out of Gujarat, a bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and C K Prasad said: "No state, organization or person can claim ownership or possession over wild animals in the forest. Animals in the wild are properties of the nation for which no state can claim ownership and the state's duty is to protect wildlife and conserve it..."

Agreeing with senior advocate Raj Panjwani, counsel for the petitioner, NGO Centre for Environment Law, the bench said, "The cardinal issue is not whether the Asiatic lion is a 'family member' or is part of 'Indian culture and civilization', or is 'the pride of a state'." The main issue was to see what was in the best interest of the endangered species, it added.

If Justices Radhakrishnan and C K Prasad hurt the Narendra Modi government's pride by ordering a second home for Asiatic lions, it also dealt a death blow to the ambitious yet ill thought out project of MoEF to import the African cheetah from Namibia and relocate it in Kuno along with lions to create something similar to the vast grasslands of Africa where both carnivores share the same hunting arena teeming with a diverse prey base.

Referring to poaching and human intervention rendering several species critically endangered, the bench directed the Centre to take urgent steps for the preservation of the Great Indian Bustard, Bengal Florican, dugong, Manipur Brow-antlered Deer, Asiatic lion and wild buffalo, and initiate recovery programmes.

While ordering the lion relocation, the court took lessons from a calamitous canine distemper disease outbreak which had wiped out 85% of the lion population in Tanzania's Serengeti national park in 1994. It said compared to Serengeti, the lion population in Gir was concentrated in a much smaller area and a similar disease could play havoc with the endangered species population.

At the same time, the court also praised the Gujarat government's efforts to protect lions resulting in an increase in their population and habitation area. It accepted Madhya Pradesh counsel Vibha Datta Makhija's submissions about preparations done at Kuno to receive the lions which included increasing the prey base.

On the cheetah translocation project, the bench gave credence to amicus curiae P S Narasimha's well-researched argument that introduction of a foreign species, which never existed in India, was fraught with serious danger to the flora and fauna of Indian jungles.

"The decision taken by MoEF for introduction of African cheetahs first to Kuno and then the Asiatic lion is arbitrary, illegal and in clear violation of the statutory requirements provided under the Wildlife Protection Act," the court said.

"The order of MoEF to introduce African cheetahs into Kuno cannot stand in the eye of law and the same is quashed," the bench said but added MoEF's decision for re-introduction of Asiatic lion from Gir to Kuno was of utmost importance and could not be delayed.

Tourism threat from Madhya Pradesh

Gujarat will not only lose its exclusivity over the Asiatic lion, it will meet stiff challenge from Madhya Pradesh, which would lose no time in turning the lions into an added tourist attraction in a state which already has plenty of tigers. MP will aggressively promote Kuno Palpur to foreign visitors who come in large numbers to Khajuraho. MP attracts 2.7 lakh foreign tourists every year. Gujarat, in comparison, gets 1.60 lakh foreign tourists.

Kuno's extreme climate worrisome

In 2007, newspapers reported that heat had killed 100 peacocks in Morena (MP) in three days. This raised several doubts among lion experts in Gujarat about the chances of survival of the Asiatic lion in Kuno, which is located nearby. To survive, the lion needs sub-tropical environment in which temperatures never exceed 43 degrees Celsius. In Kuno-Palpur , temperature varies from 2 degrees Celsius in extreme winter to 49 degrees Celsius in summers. Whether the lion can survive in such weather is being hotly debated.

Poachers had scuttled lions' relocation to UP

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