'Finish studies before moving lions'
THE TIMES OF INDIA
AHMEDABAD: Gujarat's forest department has placed its objections before the 12-member expert committee appointed by the SC to manage translocation of Asiatic lions. The department has demanded that 36 mandatory studies be completed first before the committee allows any transfer of lions to MP. The studies, mandated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) consider investigations in Kuno on prey base, habitat, vegetation, weather, previous reintroduction if any, socio-economic and legal requirements among others.
What has stirred the hornet's nest recently is an RTI reply of the Madhya Pradesh forest department which claimed that the state will complete all formal processes of declaring Kuno as a 'national park' by the end of February. The expert committee had visited Kuno on December 20.
The documents containing the discussion points of the 12-member expert committee, headed by an additional director general of forests under the Union ministry of environment claims that Kuno was "conducive" according to the RTI reply. One of the committee members told TOI, "After spending nearly five hours at the sanctuary, the panel members found the atmosphere in Kuno-Palpur conducive to the shifting of lions." Gujarat, too, could not question much on MP's preparedness to host the lions.
Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh had principally differed on the issue of IUCN guidelines. While MP demanded that the guidelines be taken up simultaneously with the translocation of lions to Kuno-Palpur, Gujarat forest officials in the committee insisted that the multiple studies mandated by IUCN be conducted prior to translocation. However, officials from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) were of the opinion that various studies, including that of the prey base, have been conducted to assess the suitability of Kuno to accommodate lions. Census 2015 has pegged Gujarat's Asiatic lion population at 523. Forest minister Ganpat Vasava has said, "Apartf rom the detailed studies, we also want MP to give us details of the area which will be notified for lions. The government will go through them."
"We want all the studies to be conducted fresh and these studies have to be conducted following the apex court order of April 2013," said Vasava.
The discussion points report further additions to the demands, "All members of the expert committee, except (the representative of) the Gujarat forest department (GFD), were of the opinion that these studies may continue in parallel to the process of translocation of lions. But the GFD has recorded its objection to this proposal," it said.
The reintroduction plan of lions has faced stiff opposition from Gujarat. In April 2013, the Supreme Court had ordered shifting of some lions to Kuno.