Sunday, May 05, 2013

Pride of Gujarat gets a new home in Madhya Pradesh as Gir lions move to Kuno sanctuary

Pride of Gujarat gets a new home in Madhya Pradesh as Gir lions move to Kuno sanctuary
Daily mail

The Kuno Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh is all set to become the second home of Asiatic lions, which are currently only found in Gujarat's Gir National Park.

The proposal to relocate a few Asiatic lions from Gir to Kuno sanctuary had been paused for years due to certain objections by the Gujarat government, but a recent Supreme Court order cleared the hurdle.

The Gujarat government had refused to give lions to Madhya Pradesh, saying it would not be safe to shift the mighty beast to a state that failed to preserve its own tiger population.

However, the apex court's forest bench of justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and C.K. Prasad ruled: "No state can claim the right over an animal merely because the animal is housed in a particular state. It does not become the property of that state, it belongs to the country."

A mother's love: A lioness licks her cub at the Gir Sanctuary in the western Indian state of Gujarat. The Kuno Paipur Wuildlife Sanctuary in Madhya is set to become the second home of Asiatic lions

Tourist attraction
The Kuno sanctuary in MP's Sheopur district, about 400km from the state capital, is fast becoming one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country as it gets ready to witness roaring, growling and ferociousness of lions.

Wild species in the sanctuary, located in the Vindhyan hills adjoining Rajasthan, are seen in all their majesty as they playfully frolic in a water pool or hide behind the bushes and trees.

The population of Asiatic lions is about 400, and this species is confined to the wilderness of the Gir National Park and its adjoining Gir Wildlife Sanctuary.
Realising the necessity and urgency to provide this population an alternate home, the Central government started exploring the various protected areas to find out a probable site for their second home.

Big cat shift

The Asiatic lions typically prefer mature woodlands composed of a mix of tree species for hunting success
For resting and group hunting, lions usually select areas with dense brush, tall grass and fallen tree tops to take prey for the family
 In India, the Asiatic lion is found in only one pocket located in the Gir National Park with its annual diet preferring large prey species - nilgai, cheetal, sambar, chinkara and four-horned antelope

The Asiatic Lion is considered to be one of the most endangered carnivores in the world

Survey The Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, carried out a systematic survey of potential sites for re-introduction of Asiatic lions, and then recommended development of the Kuno Palpur sanctuary as best site for establishment of an alternate home for the lion.

The institute suggested for complete acceptance of the project by the Central and the concerned state government of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
The proposed project was of 20 years (1995-2015) with three phases: pre-translocation phase (1995-2000 ), translocation and population build up phase (2000- 2005), follow up and consolidation phase (2006- 2015).

Since then, the sanctuary has evolved into a much larger wildlife haven with the density of wild animals rising up to many folds as compared to Gujarat's Gir.
"The density of cheetal (Axis axis), sambar (Cervus unicolor), nilgai (blue-bull), Chinkara chow singha (four-horned antelope) and wild boar per square km is much higher as compared to Gir. Kuno's density of wild animals stands at 80.37 per cent per square km as compared to Gir National Park's 56.2," said R.K. Mishra, DFO, Kuno Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary.

According to the 2011 census, Gir has about 410 lions -- 97 males, 162 females and 152 cubs.

However, wildlife experts feel the need for a second home for the lions outside Gujarat.

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, experts say.
Moreover, nearly 125 years ago, lions were found in Madhya Pradesh and before that in Rajasthan, but gradually they got restricted to Gir due to wanton destruction of forest wealth.

And now, Gir is getting crowded and making the animals more vulnerable to disease, they feel.

What a view: The Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary is fast becoming one of the country's most popular tourist attractions

The sanctuary has evolved into a much larger wildlife haven with more and more animals such as the cheetal (pictured)
Villages shifted from Kuno sanctuary area

In several parts of the Gir National Park and Sanctuary, Maldharis - a term used for the many Hindu and Muslim pastoral groups - are living in the traditional settlements called nesses.

However, in Kuno Palpur, the administration has successfully shifted 24 Maldharis and Saharaia village settlements from the sanctuary area, reducing the biotic pressures drastically.

"The plan to shift 24 villages, comprising 1,545 families, from the sanctuary area began in 1997. By 2003, we managed to shift all the villages," K.K. Khare, sub-divisional officer, Kuno Palpur (West) said.

The administration has successfully shifted 24 Maldharis and Saharaia village settlements from the sanctuary area
Under the ambitious plan, a sum of RS15.43 crore was utilised by the park officials to initiate measures to prevent human-animal conflict. Under the rehabilitation package, each family was awarded RS1 lakh, 2 hectare agricultural land, 500 metre residential area and a sum of RS38,000.

Till now, the government had deposited nearly `5,85,98,198 in the bank accounts of villagers. Besides, in the area where the villagers were shifted, 62 hand pumps, 18 water wells, 341 irrigation pumps, stop dams and several other facilities were offered, claimed the administration of Kuno Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary.
Now, the park officials are constructing a seven-foot-high wall across the sanctuary border to prevent the animals from entering human habitation.

The directive of the Supreme Court regarding the translocation of some of the Asiatic lions to Kuno Palpur Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh from Gir National Park has stirred up a hornet's nest in Gujarat.
Gujarat State Board for Wildlife (GSBWL) at an emergency meeting, presided over by Chief Minister Narendra Modi, decided to file a review petition requesting the apex court to reconsider the directive on translocation of lions.
While the Gujarat chief minister does not want the issue to escalate into a battle between the two states, the sentiments in the state against the move is gaining momentum. The members of the GSBWL have been vociferous in their opposition to the move, and discussed probable environmental fallouts in case the lions were shifted to unfamiliar and unfavourable terrain.
The government it is now learnt to hire the best possible legal assistance to present its case to the Supreme Court. A source in the state government maintained that "prima facie it appears that Supreme Court has gone by the arguments of National Wildlife Board and not what Gujarat Wildlife Board and Gujarat Government have to say".
Meanwhile, Rajya Sabha member Parimal Nathwani too has come out with a statement saying the decision "came as a shockwave for the wildlife lovers of Gujarat".
"Gir lions are the pride of Gujarat. The several centuries old habitat of this rare species in Gir has been the most appropriate location because of its geographical, environmental and bio-diverse peculiarities," Nathwani added.
Meanwhile, in protest against the decision, some towns along Gir sanctuary have already registered their resentment by observing bandhs. A programme was organised at Ankolavadi village in Talala Taluka in Gir where thousands took pledge to resist the move till the end.
Many, including environmentalists, are also voicing their concern over the prevalent gun culture and poaching antecedents of Madhya Pradesh, questioning the safety of lions in the state.

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