Gir, Girnar vie for double pride
The Times of India City
AHMEDABAD: To draw international attention to Asiatic lions, the forest department has begun the process to secure Unesco recognition for Gir and Girnar sanctuaries. The department's success could make the zone the county's first to figure on both cultural and natural World Heritage Site lists. The area is not only the sole abode in the world of Asiatic lions but also the site of a large number of ancient monuments, including the Adi-Kadi Vav, Navghan Kuwo, Buddhist caves, and Ashoka edicts. A sun temple lies atop Girnar hills.
The forest department is likely to forward the dossier in 2017. "Later this month, I will hold a meeting with forest officials and expedite the matter," said Ganpat Vasava, the minister of forests. "We are preparing the proposal as we stand a good chance of getting the recognition," said chief conservator of forests A P Singh.
This will probably be the first proposal from the country in the mixed category of cultural and natural World Heritage Sites. Girnar hills, which attract pilgrims with their heritage sites, represent vital ecological heritage as well. For instance, they are vulture breeding grounds. The adjoining Gir forest is a national park and wildlife sanctuary.
The proposal will have to be cleared by the state's wildlife warden because the area in question is protected under India's forest laws. Subsequently, the proposal will be sent to the Union ministry of forests and environment, and then forwarded to Unesco. Officials said that the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, has been marked as a category-2 centre of the UN body for World Natural Heritage Management and Training, Asia-Pacific region.
As for lions' place in Gujarat, the world's first conservation manual was etched on the foothills of Gir 1,200 years ago by Ashoka, whose edicts on protecting animals sounds modern today. Much later, in the 20th century, Muhammad Mahabat Khan III - the last nawab of Junagadh - helped forestall lions' extinction by preserving vast tracts of the Gir forest to provide the royal beasts with a stable habitat. He banned hunting as well. The lion population had dropped to less than 20 in 1913; the population increased to 287 by 1936.