Sunday, October 20, 2013

Roar of the wild

Roar of the wild
Deccan Herald

Amidst all the discussion and debate on saving tigers, Asiatic lions – a lion subspecies which survives only in India now – also figured in the news, recently.

On April 15, the Supreme Court passed an order that a chunk of lions residing in the Gir National Park, Gujarat – their only home now - must to be translocated to the Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh. This was to ensure that the entire Asiatic lion population is not wiped out in the event of a natural calamity or disease in Gir.

Unfortunately, six months past the verdict, not a single lion has been handed over to Kuno which is seen as a sign of unnecessary political posturing and environmental insensitivity on the part of Gujarat CM and PM hopeful Narendra Modi.

Thoughtfully, during the past week, which was observed as the World Wildlife Week, three photographers and nature enthusiasts came up with a photo exhibition called 'Landscape of the Lions.' Showcased at the India International centre, it depicted lions and their natural habitat at Gir, highlighting how they desperately need to be provided a second home to be able to endure on the map of wildlife of India.

N Shiva Kumar, the lead photographer and a freelance writer on wildlife, says, "India is the only country in the world to have had five big cat species – the cheetah, leopard, snow leopard, tiger and lion - until recently. Sadly, the cheetah was lost to hunting, the tiger has its back to the wall and the Asiatic lion, somehow, has gone off the radar of environmental experts, completely. This is when lion has always been a prominent symbol in our culture as the vahan of Goddess Durga and even being our national animal
till 1973."

There was a time when the territory of the Asiatic lion spread from Palestine to Palamu (present Jharkhand). However, they were hunted down so fiercely, that in 1947 only about 173 remained in Gir where the nawab of Junagadh had protected them. Sharad Khanna, a wildlife tour company owner and participant photographer says, "Over the years, problems have emerged in Gir too. The number of habitant tribals has grown, tourist movement has increased and chances of a sickness spreading and consuming the lions, has multiplied."

The photographs, taken by Shiva, his son Coomaar N Carthik and Sharad depict this malady in Gir well. There are shots of the lions – entire prides looking for preys, lazing near riversides, cubs playing; other wildlife in Gir – spotted deer, antelopes, jackals and all manner of birds, as well as the tribals - Maldhari and Siddis.

Shiva says, "People often ask me 'why save the lions?' I tell them lions don't live in isolation. They are part of an ecosystem, an entire web of life. When you save a lion, you rescue a whole chain of animals living in that system. Besides, Singham (lions) are a lasting icon of our ethos – exuding pride, the sentiment of cohabitation and loyalty. Why not save the king of all animals?"

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