Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why New Home Can Save India’s Lions

Why New Home Can Save India's Lions
Indian Real Time

Conservationists say splitting India's small population of Asiatic lions will help prevent the endangered animal from being wiped out.

India's Supreme Court on Monday ruled that some of the 411 Asiatic lions that live exclusively in Gir Forest in Gujarat state will be moved to Kuno Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.

"I am all in favor of it," said M. K. Ranjitsinh, chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India, a non-governmental organization. "They should have a second home," he added.

Experts argue restricting the lions to a single geographical area puts them at greater risk of extinction.

"If they are hit by a disease, there is a possibility that the entire population could be wiped out," said Belinda Wright, founder of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.

"It is best for the species that a second and third location is established," Ms. Wright added, warning of the risk of extinction.

"India would be a devastated place without this incredible cultural and heritage symbol," she said.

The court said the lions will move to Madhya Pradesh within the next six months. A special panel comprising wildlife experts will decide how many lions will be move to Kuno Palpur, one of the most suitable habitats in India for Asiatic lions, according to a study by the Wildlife Institute of India.

The court's ruling puts an end to a long-running interstate dispute. Gujarat has been reluctant to let go of a share of its lion population, a major tourist attraction in the state.

Around 460,000 tourists visited the Gir Forest in 2012 generating revenues of 50 million rupees ($914,745) for Gujarat's forest department, according to Sandeep Kumar, a forest official at Gir.

The government of Gujarat had opposed the relocation of any of its lions to Madhya Pradesh, citing rampant poaching there.

According to Madhya Pradesh's forest department, there are between 250 and 300 cases of poaching of all types of animals in Madhya Pradesh every year.

Asiatic lions are smaller than their African counterparts, and have visible ears and a thinner mane. Asiatic lions also have a thicker elbow tufts and a longer tail tuft.

While dividing the lion population between two states will likely help conservation efforts, experts say other worries remain.

Lions have difficulty finding enough to eat, as their prey – mainly deer and antelopes – is frequently killed by humans. "This is an overriding problem throughout India," Ms. Wright said.

The loss of natural habitat through deforestation caused by a rising human population is also detrimental to the lion population, said Naresh Kadyan, Indian representative of International Organization for Animal Protection, a body affiliated to the United Nations.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan welcomed the court's decision: "I welcome Supreme Court's verdict on Asiatic Lions. We are well-equipped to welcome them in their new home. #MP," he wrote on Twitter on Monday.

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