Friday, August 05, 2011

Asiatic lions: Let the pride increase!

Asiatic lions: Let the pride increase! By Dharmendra Khandal

Hundred years ago, the population of Asiatic lion in India were left to about a dozen; today this number has reached to 411 lions. World over there is a trend of flora and fauna declining due to human population increase and consecutive habitat losses, so what is it that the population of Asiatic lion is increasing.

Yogendra Shah a wildlife researcher working in Gir forest gives the credit of this reverse trend to the community living around the lion's territory and the forest department. The lions are a symbol of pride for the people of Gujarat and for their conservation; they make all efforts and sacrifices.

Shah recollected an incident where, he went to meet a family, which had six members and two buffalos, the lions killed one of the buffalo but the family had no grudge against the big cats.

About a hundred years back when the Junagarh nawab could not find a lion for his shikar, he realised that the lion population had declined. He stopped hunting of lion. With times, trends and problems change like forest department rescue team has been rescuing 20-30 lions each year from open deep wells. There are some eight thousand wells in and around the lion territory and the forest department and locals have managed to fence or wall about four thousand. The Gir forest is a 1400 sq km area but the lions have now expanded their territory and found in 2300 sq km. However, the lions in one era were found in many states of India like the Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh. The reasons for their extinction were shikar and their habitat being open scrubland. They did not have the knack to survive such as the tiger, at the same time the lions are very vocal and the hunters can easily catch their presence. Hence, the existence of the Asiatic lions in Gujarat is a very big achievement and the credit goes to the community, researches, forest department and the politicians.

However if we want to conserve the lions in the long term we have to move to a new phase in which the lion has to be changed from the 'pride of Gujarat' to the 'pride of India'. Two decades ago the government had worked in this direction they proposed the kuno area of Madhya Pradesh to be the second home for the lions and even relocated 24 villages from the forest but the Gujarat government, forest department and researches did not want to give their pride to any other state. Unfortunately, the entire program was put on hold. Now there is a case filed in the Supreme Court to bring lions in Madhya Pradesh.

The Madhya Pradesh government possibly believes that they have enough tiger forests and need to work on species such as lions or cheetahs to attract tourists. With this ideology if we are bringing the lions, then the decision of the Gujarat people looks more acceptable. However, in spite of all the debate, we do know that the growing lion population needs a second home, may be not in other state but in Gujarat itself we can think of another area.

(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambhore)

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