Saturday, June 25, 2016

Gujarat swallows its pride, may agree to translocate Gir lions to Kuno Sanctuary, Economic Times 18 June 2016

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Gujarat swallows its pride, may agree to translocate Gir lions to Kuno Sanctuary

By Anubhuti Vishnoi, ET Bureau, 18 Jun, 2016, 02:10 hrs IST, Economic Times
PHOTO: The development comes amid reports of lions from Gir stepping into human habitations, turning man-eaters and being moved to captivity.
Gujarat has indicated that it may be willing to relocate some of the iconic Gir lions out of the state, signalling a shift in stance after it continued to resist the move during  Narendra Modi's more than 12 years at the helm as chief minister.  

At a meeting of the central expert committee on translocation of Asiatic Lions from Gir National Park in  Gujaratto  Kuno Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh held last month, the Gujarat government said it may be willing to accept the committee's decision on translocation if some of its concerns are addressed.  

As per the minutes of the fifth meeting of the expert committee held on May 13, reviewed by ET, the chief wildlife warden of Gujarat said that "if Gujarat government's issues are addressed and a scientific translocation is followed, Gujarat shall go ahead with the decision of the committee". 
Queries emailed to the Gujarat forest department and the chief wild life warden on the subject did not elicit any response by Friday evening. The environment ministry did not respond to ET's queries either.  

The development comes amid reports of lions from Gir stepping into human habitations, turning man-eaters and being moved to captivity. 

Experts have for long been saying that Gir has become overcrowded with lions and there is need to spread them out to other locations to ensure their genetic stability and health. During Modi's four successive terms as chief minister, though, Gujarat refused to relocate the lions. The Gir lion is projected as a symbol of Gujarati pride and helps draw tourists in large numbers to the state since the species is not present in wild anywhere else in India.  

The  Supreme Court in 2013 ruled in favour of translocation of the Asiatic lion to Kuno in the interest of the genetic stability of the species. In a report submitted in 2014, the expert committee largely found Kuno ready to receive the lions and had suggested that a single pride of five to 10 Asiatic lions with 60%-70% female population be moved to start with. Gujarat, however, steadfastly opposed translocation in subsequent meetings of the expert committee.  

At the meeting it was agreed that "airlifting of lions would be the feasible option" and Madhya Pradesh would take all necessary scientific measures thereafter for maintaining the genetic stability of the lion population as per International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines on translocation. It was also decided that before the action plan is implemented, the Kuno sanctuary should be declared as a national park for effective implementation of relevant activities.  

The minutes of the meeting record that an action plan "to give effect to this translocation" will be submitted shortly and a draft tripartite memorandum of understanding clearly indicating roles, rights, risks and privileges of the three parties - Gujarat government, Madhya Pradesh government and ministry of environment and forests - will be drafted and finalised by the next meeting.  

It was also agreed that separate state specific empowered or coordination committees for Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh will be formed to coordinate all translocation related issues. Besides, there will be a steering committee to oversee the coordination committee which will be chaired by a senior official from the wildlife department of the environment ministry.  

While a revised draft action plan for translocation had been proposed in 2015, the Gujarat government is learnt to have flagged off more than 35 issues, ranging from choice of methodology for translocation, demographic profile of the Asiatic lion to the prey-predator population balance at Gir and Kuno. A number of studies were also proposed by Gujarat before any translocation. However, the Wildlife Institute of India is learnt to have indicated that many of these studies were either already conducted some were unnecessary.  

It was agreed that while some other studies could be initiated before translocation is undertaken, others can be carried out alongside. Some of the studies agreed to be undertaken are on assessment of status and distribution of prey and predator base in Kuno; understanding space use; resource selection and niche separation by sympatric carnivores such as tigers, leopards, hyenas, jackals and wolves; assess prevalence and virulence of major pathogens among wild carnivores around the sanctuary and understanding livelihood issues and social carrying capacity for reintroducing lions in the Kuno landscape.


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