Thursday, February 27, 2014


Print Edition
By Lavkumar Khachar

Today, Monday 10th February, 2014 afternoon a reporter called from Ahmedabad asking me whether I had any information about the Supreme Court having given a favorable opinion against the moving of wild lions from the Gir in Saurashtra to Kuno in Madhya Pradesh. I had no information. Shortly after, I received a call from Kodinar south of the Gir informing me that there had been a positive ruling to a PIL moved by a NGO and that there was great excitement and revelry in Sasan. It was later that Bharat Jethwa, a former scientist with the GEER Foundation, Gandhinagar  rang up to inform me that he was just emerging from the Court in Delhi where a reprieve had been given to the earlier Supreme Court Order for the translocation of lions to Kuno! Now was the time for me to clearly explain why I was against the setting up of a satellite population of lions in Madhya Pradesh. Earlier, I had been asked by a young birdwatcher from Sasan why I was against sending a few lions to Madhya Pradesh which made me realize that I just would have to clearly indicate the reasons for my objections.

It may be in place here for me to remind my readers that way back in 1956, mine had been a lone voice against the transfer of wild lions from the Gir in the then Saurashtra State to the Chandra Prabha Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh! That experiment had failed and the same folly was being repeated more than half a century later! It may be worth recording that prior to Independence, the then Maharaja of Gwalior had released African lions close to the very area where the present introduction is being mooted; that experiment had singularly failed but under-scored by, if I remember facts correctly, a tragedy as one of the lions had taken to killing human beings and had to be shot. These early failures are being brushed aside by the very men who should have been cautioning against translocation of dangerous predators! Their argument being that the earlier attempts lacked scientific knowledge which they now possessed!

 In actual fact, ground realities during the two earlier attempts were far more favorable than those existing today; there were wider spaces uniformly populated by wild herbivores and a far smaller human population! Also, law enforcement was strict in contrast to it being rather lackadaisical if not totally nonexistent today.  Wildlife scientists should be the very last people recommending quixotic experiments of reintroduction of endangered species into areas that are not fenced as indeed none of India’s wildlife sanctuaries and National Parks are. The greater knowledge of population dynamics should highlight the folly of any such experimentation given the huge human pressures around all our open wildlife areas.

The most glaring proof is provided by the much vaunted Project Tiger which has been operating now for around four decades. We have had tigers disappearing from the Siraska and the Panna Tiger Sanctuaries and, an embarrassing fact being glossed over is that despite effective protection and management of prestigious Bandhavghad, Kanha, Ranthambhor, etc., there is no repopulation around these protected areas as indeed is happening with the lions outside the Gir. Efficient management will  result in increase in numbers and their spread; arguably then, the surplus tigers are disappearing into the highly organized and lucrative international trade in tiger parts a factor that had not been operational during the two earlier lion reintroduction experiments. If anything, Project Tiger has resulted in the formation of an efficient poacher network in Madhya Pradesh! Sending lions to Kuno would be sending them to an assured death; lion parts could well be passed off as tiger parts.

The spread of lions beyond the confines of the Gir and a steady repopulating of the former lion range in Saurashtra region of Gujarat is thanks to the acceptance of the large cat by the communities. What makes the entire story of the comeback of the Asiatic Lion so very significant is the acceptance of the Gujarat Wildlife Department crediting the good will of the rural communities for the lions being in great measure responsible for strengthening their efforts.  It is this synergy between human beings and the great predator that should be recognized and used as the bedrock for developing an innovative conservation program to revitalize large tracts of highly degraded countryside across which traditional agriculture and animal husbandry barely sustain the population with the only alternative for improving economies being  quarrying for limestone and setting up associated industries.  And, what is true of the lion in Saurashtra is true for the tiger and other charismatic wildlife in other parts of India. Wildlife scientists should see how their expertise can strengthen ‘in situ’ conservation initiatives and make wildlife an economic asset.

Scientific expertise must be directed towards the setting up of state of the art captive breeding facilities and the blue printing of protocols for the subsequent introduction of the bred animals into near wild situations.  Let Kuno be fenced and the entire lot of lions now in the Junagadh Sakar Bagh Zoo could be shifted there!! Rehabilitating these animals is what is posing a problem; Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have vast areas of degraded lands that could be converted into magnificent “lion landscapes”! Sensitively developed eco tourism would generate considerable revenues exponentially improving the life styles of otherwise impoverished populations. It bears repetition that with pressure lifted from the land, the natural vegetation would regenerate rapidly as only the flora of monsoon regions can resulting in a resurgence of the embattled fauna. Literally we would witness the regaining of Paradise Lost!

Setting up the Madhya Pradesh population it is argued would ensure that having the entire population would not go extinct on account of natural calamities like floods, drought or fire and inbreeding. In case of the Gir, forest fires cannot destroy the entire forest since the hill range run from west to east and the perennial water courses flow from north to south, effectively breaking the entire sanctuary into several sections that would preclude a fire destroying the entire area. The strong prevailing winds blow either from the South West to the North East or in the opposite direction and so, how ever so strong a fire, it would be effectively contained between the water courses.  The rivers have deep pools of water which never dry up and so even during the worst of droughts, there is enough water for animals to drink. In any case, the lions are no longer restricted to the confines of the Gir having spread out across cultivated countryside where there are plenty of water points provided for irrigation and domestic animals. This same spread ensures that no epidemic can affect the entire population, and besides; any outbreak of disease can be forestalled by regular immunization of both wild and domestic animals as part of the conservation effort.  The ever widening range precludes inbreeding. In any case the scientists could more effectively get involved genetically mapping the mega population and monitoring it on a regular basis.

                                                                                                                                                Lavkumar Khachar.

No comments:

Previous Posts