Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Narendra Modi govt to file review petition on lions translocation issue

Narendra Modi govt to file review petition on lions translocation issue
The Indian Express

Gujarat to file review petition on lions translocation issue.

The Gujarat State Wildlife Board (GSWF), today decided to file a review petition against the Supreme Court order for translocation of some Asiatic lions from Gir to Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. The meeting chaired by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi expressed regret that the Supreme Court has totally ignored the facts presented by the state government and GSWB against the translocation.
"It was unanimously decided in the meeting of the board to challenge the Supreme Court decision to translocate only surviving Asiatic Lions from Gir," Forest minister Ganpat Vasava told reporters after the meeting.

"We will file a review petition," he added.

Translocation of lions has become an issue with between the two BJP ruled states of Gujarat and MP, as the former has been constantly opposing the move proposed by the National Wildlife Board.

The apex court had earlier this month directed the Centre to shift the Asiatic lions from the Gir forest to Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, saying the big cats need a second home to prevent their extinction due to some epidemic or large forest fire.

Currently, Gujarat's Gir sanctuary is the only home to Asiatic lions in the world. A century ago, Gir housed around 100 Asiatic lions, whose number, as per the last census conducted in 2010, stood at over 400.

The state has been opposing the relocation of lions, considered as "pride of Gujarat".

Wildlife expert Luvkumar Kachar said, "The Supreme Court has not listened to the views of GSWB which had given an opinion against the translocation of lions. If view of state board is not taken into consideration then why have such boards".

Gujarat had raised the issue of rampant poaching of tigers in MP, low prey base in the Kuno sanctuary and the harsh climatic conditions in the reserve forest area which they say would be counter-productive for survival of the translocated lions.

"The state government also said that tigers are already present in the Kuno sanctuary. Tigers and Lions have not survived together anywhere in any forest," according to sources.

Conservationists hail relocation of endangered Asiatic lions

Conservationists hail relocation of endangered Asiatic lions
The National

Conservationists have hailed a high court ruling to relocate some of India's endangered Asiatic lions, but the decision has angered officials from Gujarat, the state that has been asked to share its big cats.

Conservationists have hailed a high court ruling to relocate some of India's endangered Asiatic lions, but the decision has angered officials from Gujarat, the state that has been asked to share its big cats.

 ■ Asiatic lions, rescued from near extinction, now need a new home
■ Last of the world's Asiatic lions clawing their way back
■ Plea to protect Asiatic lions

The Supreme Court ruled on April 15 that spreading out the population would help the species to flourish and said it would permit the transfer of an as-yet-undetermined number of lions from the Gir sanctuary in Gujarat, into the state of Madhya Pradesh's Kuno sanctuary. Nearly 400 Asiatic lions survive in the wild and they all live in Gir - a 1,600-square-kilometre patch of scrub in southern Gujarat.

The state's political leaders and park officials from Gir opposed the court's ruling, citing the importance of the lions' political symbolism to their state and failed conservation efforts in other states.

The verdict has been seen as a snub to the Gujarat government and its chief minister Narendra Modi, who once said "the lions are the pride of Gujarat".
Mr Modi, considered the front-runner to be the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) prime ministerial candidate in general elections next year, has himself often been praised as the "Lion of Gujarat".

In a statement soon after the Supreme Court's decision, Gujarat's finance minister, Nitin Patel, said that his government has "decided to explore all legal options against the verdict". No petitions to review the court's verdict have been filed as yet. The court has given wildlife authorities six months to transfer the lions, after assessing how many should be moved.

Many conservationists welcomed the plan to increase the range of the lions.

Asad Rahmani, director of the Mumbai Natural History Society, said last week that "relocating some lions is a wonderful idea for the long-term survival of the species and should have been done much earlier".

Gujarat has tended to its lions well as Gir's population has increased from 100 a century ago, to 180 in 1974, to nearly 400 today.
"The planned translocation is not because of any deficiencies in the current management," Ravi Chellam, a conservation scientist upon whose 1995 research the Gir-Kuno relocation plan is based, said yesterday. "In fact, I would like to term it as learning to manage success. Think of it as buying life insurance. It's a safety net."

The idea to transfer some of Gujarat's lions elsewhere was first mooted 40 years ago when the Indian Board of Wildlife realised that a single epidemic could wipe out the Gir lion population.

In 1994, canine distemper – a viral disease that can also affect cats – led to the death of 400 lions in the Serengeti, M K Ranjitsinh, chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India, told the Business Standard newspaper on Sunday.

The Asiatic lion is a protected species in India and is considered "endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). But the IUCN assessment considers the lion's population stable and noted that the species had moved up a rang from its "critically endangered" level in 2000.
The actual transfer of the lions will be a meticulous and well-thought-out affair, said Mr Chellam, who is now the director of research and conservation at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust.

"Since lions are social animals it is best to choose animals from a settled pride," he said. "You want animals from within the protected area, because you want lions least used to people. You want animals that are normally hunting and feeding on wild prey, rather than those prone to killing livestock."

As a first step, only five to eight lions will be moved – a small fraction of the total population at Gir, which already has a surplus of about 100 lions that live outside the inner protected zone of the sanctuary.

But in Gujurat there is fierce resistance to the relocation plans.

When Mr Chellam, along with a delegation from the Prague Zoo, visited Gir on April 16, he faced such hostility from sanctuary officials and from protesters that he left after only a day.

Some of these protests were organised by the Prakruti Nature Club, a conservation NGO based in Gujarat.
"A number of the locals living near the sanctuary were opposed to Ravi Chellam's visit," Dinesh Goswami, the founder of the Prakruti Nature Club, said on Wednesday. "It was a good thing he left when he did."

Mr Goswami pointed out that Gujarat had, in the mid-1980s, donated a few Asiatic lions to Madhya Pradesh, and that there was no sign of them now. "And every time we catch a poacher here in Gir, it turns out that he is from Madhya Pradesh," he said.

"So the people of Gujarat have become convinced of the fact that if our lions go to Kuno, they will die," Mr Goswami said. "They won't be able to protect the lions at all. They're thinking only of the money they will make from tourists, and not about the well-being of the animals."

Monday, April 29, 2013

Unlamented, let me die

Unlamented, let me die
The Hindu

The Bahauddin ka Maqbara is in a state of neglect.

No entrance ticket, no guide, no literature, no maintenance… Why has the Gujarat Archaeological Department chosen to forget the spectacular monuments in Junagadh's Mahabat Maqbara complex?

Histories are written, documented, rigged and forgotten. At times, they turn into exaggerated myths; at others, they vanish unnoticed, eaten away by termites, neglect or wrong intentions. On the other hand, monuments — reminders of history — can't be wished away unless demolished by angry mobs driven by political will. Of course, they can also be left unattended to wither and die.

The showcasing of Gir in the Gujarat tourism campaign by Amitabh Bachchan rekindled our desire to see the wild Asiatic Lion. We drove down the flat and rusty countryside, reached Gir and stayed in the forest guesthouse near the well-managed Gir National Park.

On our way back, early in the morning, we passed Junagarh, grey and bleak in the early morning hours. There was no traffic and we were glad to be crossing what would likely be the most congested areas later in the day while the city was still sleeping. Suddenly, a jaw-dropping sight, right in the middle of the city, compelled us to stop and get down for a closer look.

On our left stood a monument facing the main road, the likes of which we'd never seen before. Vaguely resembling the Taj, yet matchless, it stood desolate and grand. It had beautiful minarets, spiralled in opposite directions, and an air of fallen glory evident in its un-glorified decay. We couldn't see any nameplate from where we stood. Some broken spotlights serving as home for spiders.

We took a few snaps, uploaded it on social media, got comments like "Is this monument in Europe?" and forgot all about it. Last month, our uncle's family made a trip to Gir and decided to explore Junagarh. They went to the same place, which we then learnt is called Bahauddin ka Maqbara. No entrance ticket, no guide, no literature, no maintenance. An old board gave a name and forgotten past. This re-kindled our interest in the wonder we'd fleetingly seen and we began to gather information

Bahauddin ka Maqbara is the mausoleum of the Vazir of Junagarh, sharing the compound with Mahabat Maqbara. A fine piece of 19th century architecture, the Mahabat Maqbara was built in 1892 over the grave of Nawab Mahabat Khan II. This compound houses the mausoleums of both the Vazir and the Nawab.

Junagarh, literally 'Old Fort', has its share of forts, monuments and architecture built by the erstwhile Nawabs in the 18th and 19th centuries. But the stunner is the Mahabat Maqbara complex, with its fusion of Indo-Islamic-Gothic architecture, marble tracery work on the French windows, marble jalis (most of which are missing), onion-shaped dome, minarets with winding staircases around them, elaborate carvings and silver-tinged fawn body of the mausoleum.

The Maqbara, generally kept under lock and key, can be seen from inside by fetching the keys from the adjoining Jami Masjid. A flood of humanity flows around the tomb in the day with the High Court building, originally the Nawab's residence, opposite the compound and a busy road right ahead.

While researching about the Mahabat Maqbara, I came across a few blogs. One says, "Unfortunately, it is right in the centre of a very crowded and congested area of Junagarh … On entering the compound that encompassed the monument, we were appalled to see how badly maintained the area was. School children on a break were running around unrestrained; while there was litter everywhere... It was saddening to see such fine architecture ignored by the state government." Another comments, "Children play cricket on the premises, goats nuzzle around for whatever little vegetation is there and the fakirs and the homeless sit in the shade of the building." A few point out that the long neglect of the Maqbara may be because the Nawab refused to merge with the Republic of India after independence and fled to Pakistan. That was more than six decades ago. How many decades do we need to clear confusion, if there was any?

A board by the Department of Archaeology, Government of Gujarat, says it is protected under Gujarat Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1965 (Gujarat Act No.65 of 1965) and warns that anyone defacing, destroying, or removing any part of it, or imperilling it in any manner will be liable to a punishment with a fine up to Rs.5000, or imprisonment up to three months, or both.

Clearly, this warning hasn't been able to scare away either the goats or the children or the beggars and loiters. Why has the Gujarat Archaeological Department chosen to forget the exceptional and spectacular monuments, which attract so many tourists, in spite of being ill maintained? Why isn't it part of the hard-selling Gujarat tourism campaign? Why is there no entrance fee, maintenance, guides in the complex, advertisement or buzz about it, when it can generate livelihood and make the place self-sustainable? Does the answer lie in the secular credentials of the Gujarat government?

What it needs is a public campaign or perhaps just a word to the government from the famed brand ambassador of Gujarat Tourism might suffice. This piece of heritage is prepared for an unlamented death; it is up to us if we want to see its last rites or revival.

Expert speak on wildlife issues that led to the Gir Lion transfer fiasco

Expert speak on wildlife issues that led to the Gir Lion transfer fiasco
Daily Bhaskar

The loss of case and as much of its face in the Supreme Court over the translocation of Asiatic Lions to Madhya Pradesh has inadvertently revealed a deep rot of the Gujarat government in dealing with wildlife. Even as the Gujarat government doesn't exactly take wildlife issues 'lightly', many stakeholders have for long believed, and even more so now, that the state establishment doesn't give it due importance.
Can we look at this situation as perhaps an opportunity in disguise to introspect on the functioning of forest department? A fortnight after the SC announced its decision, green activists be it in Saurashtra or Gandhinagar believe the state government did not take the case seriously enough. That Gujarat's arguments against translocation were not presented in the court scientifically and assertively enough. After studying the order and a meeting of the state wildlife board later, observers believe that the government perhaps simply did not take the case seriously enough.
The issue arouses extreme emotions. "Who argued for us? What did they say in court? We were kept in dark. Forest officers appearing in court do not care for the lions like we do," cried Kodinar-based green activist Dinesh Goswami as he threatened self-immolation if lions are shifted. The larger sentiment in Gujarat may not be as sharp, but in the environmentalists' community, there is certainly a question as to what really happened? Where did we go wrong?
Science vs emotion: Blinded with Pride
In a nutshell there are two premises on which the case of lions' translocation is opposed by Gujarat – one: Kuno Palpur is not a safe alternative because of the presence of poachers, not enough prey-base, tigers in close vicinity and harsh climate. The second premise is the lions are not unsafe in Gujarat. Lions have long moved out of the Gir sanctuary into the Greater Gir area spread over four districts (Junagadh, Amreli, Bhavnagar and Porbandar) and 5,000 sq km; so the threat of a single epidemic wiping out the species or in-breeding does not arise as they are not in close contact with each other. This is the science of it. Each of these points were presented by Gujarat's forest department officials and countered effectively by national wildlife experts (See Box).
Did Gujarat bring in any scientific expert to argue its case? The only one appearing from Gujarat in SC was the respective wildlife warden of the time. A senior forest official passionately argues, "Our affidavits quoted multiple researches, scientific papers, acquired scientifically (sic) were presented in court. Our arguments were forceful. How else do you explain the Court having to refer the matter twice to the National Board for Wildlife in India?" he said, refusing to be identified given the sensitivity of the court case.
Member of NBWLI Divyabhanusinh Chavda agrees that Gujarat has done a very good job of declaring the surrounding forest areas as sanctuaries (Mitayala in Amreli, Pania in Porbandar and Girnar in Junagadh). "But when it comes to protecting 'lion corridors' – surrounding regions – it is not enough. Human development in the area is inevitable and a serious threat. Kudos to Gujarat for cherishing the Saavaj (colloquial for lion) for all these years, but it is just not possible to contain them in the region anymore," he says. Chavda, a Gujarati himself, was part of the NBWLI's standing committee appointed by SC that recommended translocation.
Former wildlife warden GA Patel who feels as passionately about the struggle now as he did when it initiated in the early 2000s during his tenure, says the national wildlife experts and MP officials ganged up against Gujarat and we failed to defend ourselves.
Well, when you are arguing a case it is expected that your points will be countered. So, what was our counter argument?
Emotion. Enter State Board for Wildlife. SBWL in a meeting in March 2012 advised the government to put forth the argument that Gujarat's USP is an extremely tolerant vegetarian community, which treats the lions as a "family member" or is part of the "Indian culture and civilization", and would therefore never hurt them.
This argument was shot down by court as anthropocentric and not eco-centric. The order says, "Our approach should not be human-centric or family-centric but eco-centric. 'Scientific reasoning' for its re-location has to supersede the family bond or pride of the people…" Some wildlife activists believe this was the clincher of sorts.
"The Gujarat government has run out of any valid arguments. We are talking about an endangered wildlife species here, not a pet animal you rear in your backyard," scoffed a senior wildlife biologist who has occasionally advised the court. He too requests anonymity. The argument of 'emotional connect and belonging' infact further spurred the debate on the ownership of the Lions. The court in a hearing in 2012 appeared miffed, and categorically states even in the order that wildlife is not ownership of any state but belongs to the nation.
If initial indications are anything to go by, in the review petition this will be the primary argument, albeit presented more forcefully.
State and wildlife
An essay on wildlife in Gujarat will have a long list of species that roam the length and breadth of the state – perhaps the largest variety in country as of date. As for the way political brass treats its Forest officers, the essay would be a long list of complaints. Over and above the fact that forest department is crippled with vacancies of officials in key posts, there is a long-standing grievance of wildlife activists that most of these officials anyways do not understand wildlife issues much. There is a perpetual requisition to create a separate cadre of forest officials who have had scientific training in wildlife issues, so that the powerful decision makers are technically informed about the subject. This issue is not specific to Gujarat but all over the country. "Wildlife was earlier considered punishment posting," Patel chuckles.
Why this issue becomes relevant in the lions' translocation case is because for most parts the strategizing for preparing Gujarat's arguments in court seemed to be done by different forest officials. Given the Modi government's propensity to come down heavily on whistleblowers, veteran environmentalists and activists do not want to be quoted, but in off-record conversations express their frustration at being stereotyped and relegated as 'biased activists'. "Just because we would not agree with one or the other proposal of the Modi government to give away a certain sensitive parcel of land to an industry, we are labeled and permanently typecasted," a reliable source says.
For about six years, till the arguments had nearly concluded, SBWL was not systematically consulted for the arguments in lion relocation case. One has often heard that the SBWL meeting hardly ever witnesses any heated debate as the CM chairs the meeting and members do not have much choice but to agree with the proposals – mostly diversion of land for different purposes. "Those who do argue are soon replaced on the board with more compliant members," the source confides. As it turns out, the SBWL meeting earlier this week was held only after some members practically demanded it. "Govt should have taken initiative to call the meeting to inform the Board about what happened in the case and what they are planning next," a member of the Board said.
As is for all services, IFS promotions are long due. The incumbent Wildlife Warden CN Pandey who took charge in November 2012 is still not full-time. He is in-charge of another important department (D&M). It is often argued that wildlife conservation in Gujarat is better than most other states of the country; but is that an aspiration benchmark?

Madhya Pradesh government scrambles to assuage Modi after Gujarat's loss of 'pride

Madhya Pradesh government scrambles to assuage Modi after Gujarat's loss of 'pride
Times of India

(Government circles in Madhya Pradesh have suggested that the tag of 'Gir' or 'Gujarat' be retained to identify the relocated lions at their new home in the wilderness of Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in northern Madhya Pradesh.)

Given the Gujarat chief minister NarendraModi'sspiralling graph in the BJP and his virtual anointment as the party's prime ministerial candidate, the Shivraj Singh Chauhan government has hastened to assuage the loss Gujarat might feel after the recent Supreme Court order for the relocation of Gir's lions to a sancutary in Madhya Pradesh.

Government circles in Madhya Pradesh have suggested that the tag of 'Gir' or 'Gujarat' be retained to identify the relocated lions at their new home in the wilderness of Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in northern Madhya Pradesh.

The move for relocation, first mooted back in 2000, had been hanging fire ever since because Gujarat had steadfastly refused to part with the majestic big cats since that state held the unique distinction of being home to the natural habitat of the only surviving Asiatic lions.

While conservationists insisted that diversifying the lions' habitat would ward off any natural, medical or man-made calamity that could wipe out the entire population of Gir's lions, Gujarat treated the issue as a matter of pride and wanted to retain its unique status to continue to attract the substantial tourist inflow to Gir.

After the Supreme Court finally resolved the issue in favour of relocation, Gujarat is left with little choice but to comply. ""We are mulling upon to propose the retention of the 'Gir' or 'Gujarat' tag with the lions that will arrive at Kuno-Palpur. It would then be up to the Gujarat Government whether it would like us to do so,"" Government sources told ToI.

""It's too early to comment it. However, we would consider it if it paves the way for early relocation of the lions to Madhya Pradesh,"" say Sartaj Singh, Minister for Forests, Government of Madhya Pradesh.

Such proposal, it seems, will hardly change an opinion of the Gujarat towards sharing of the lions.

What's in a name? asks Nitin Patel, spokesperson of the Gujarat government. "It's not a war between two chief ministers of two states or a matter of name. My question is, when why to disturb them when they are happily breeding here" said Patel adding that people in Gujarat are emotionally attached with the lions. He maintained that state government has taken a decision to file review petition in Supreme Court to challenge the verdict directing translocation of lions to Madhya Pradesh.

Maharashtra officials get animal rescue training in Gir

Maharashtra officials get animal rescue training in Gir
Times of India

A team of 13 officials from Maharashtra, including chief wildlife warden of Maharashtra SWHNaqvi, visited Gir sanctuary for the three-day study on rescue of wild animals, including leopard.

This was the second such training imparted to forest department officials from Maharashtra in Gir. The first batch had officers who were below the rank of CCF and the present batch had officers of level of additional principal chief conservator of forest and chief conservator of forest. They visited Gir for three days from April 21.

Their visit was a follow up of principal secretary, forest and environment, Maharashtra, Praveen Pardeshi, who visited Gir in March along with the officers of forest department. R L Meena, CCF, wildlife circle, Junagadh; Sandeep Kumar, DCF, wildlife division, Sasan-Gir hosted the training session.

"Gir forest management is becoming a model for study in human-wildlife conflict management in India. Skilled manpower, modern infrastructure, quick responses, community cooperation, strong communication system, community awareness among others are the base for the strength of the successful rescue operations and treatments in Gir protected area," Kumar said.

Maharashtra officials were also surprised to see women involved in the rescue of animals. Rasila Wadher, the only woman in the rescue team, demonstrated how to rescue the animal, treat it and even release it after treatment.

Activists, politicos join fight to save Gir lions

Activists, politicos join fight to save Gir lions
Deccan Herald

The chorus for not sending some Gir lions to Madhya Pradesh is growing louder in the state, this time with wildlife activists and political representatives leading from the front.

State wildlife board member Lavkumar Khachar has prepared a review petition to be filed in the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, several NGOs are also seeking legal opinions on whether they can be a party to the review petition or challenge the judgement on behalf of the people of Saurashtra.

To give the movement a political strength, Manavadar MLA Jawahar Chavda too has sought legal opinion and is planning to join as party in the case. "We want the courts to hear our side, it is we the people of Saurashtra who have preserved and saved the lions, the government has just been a facilitator. We have also prevented poaching of these animals,'' said Chavda.

Chavda insisted that the court and the government should take them into confidence before taking any final decision over translocation to any other place outside Saurashtra.

Adding on Khachar said that the successful conservation of the lions was primarily because of the people of the region, and translocation  of the animals would affect the morale of the people.

Land prices go up three times around Kuno sanctuary

Land prices go up three times around Kuno sanctuary
Times of India

Real estate prices in and around Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh have sky-rocketed, days after the Supreme Court ruled for shifting some of the Asiatic lions from Gujarat's Gir forest. The erstwhile royalty in Kuno has also come up with fresh legal claims for some of the heritage structures in the area.

Land prices around Kuno-Palpur wildlife sanctuary (KPWS) in Sheopur district have shot up three-fold since the apex court's ruling while heirs of the erstwhile rulers of Palpur state have asked the state government to pay adequate compensation for their forts and properties located in the core area before the lions are shifted. They claim that their forts and land were acquired illegally.

The Palpur family has also moved the Gwalior bench of the Madhya Pradesh high court seeking direction to the state forest department for allowing them to visit the fort and its temple until a final settlement on their claim is made. As of now, they are charged Rs 1,300 as entry fee like any other tourist to visit their ancestral properties inside the sanctuary. "The forest department has stopped us from offering prayers at our family temple in the fort," the royals complain.

The fort or Palpur Garhi, as it is called, was vacated by the Palpur family along with people in 24 villages after the area was notified as a wildlife sanctuary in 1981.

Over 1,500 villagers inside the sanctuary were compensated for their land, cattle, trees and other belongings during the land acquisition process, but the family claims they didn't get anything. "We feel cheated, they should either compensate us properly or allow us access to our property," says Pusphraj Singh, the eldest son of late Jagmohan Singh Palpur, the erstwhile ruler.

Earlier when they approached the state government for compensation for the acquisition of the fort, the public works department said in its survey report that the property was over 100 years' old and had 'zero value'. Based on this report, compensation was denied.

When contacted, former deputy forest officer (DFO), Kuno, JS Chouhan, who completed the land acquisition process, said the Palpur family should be given due compensation after proper valuation of the property.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

‘Gir saturated, transfer a lifeline’

‘Gir saturated, transfer a lifeline’
Times of India

The world's leading lion experts are quite convinced that the move to relocate the Gir lions is an apt one. "It is important to have a second population to save the last wild Asiatic lions," says ecologist Craig Packer, director of the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota's College of Biological Sciences. "There could be an unforeseeable ecological catastrophe, a disease, typhoon or something else that destroys the habitat." Similar concerns are echoed by Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, one of the world's leading wild cat conservation organisations. Hunter, who is a globally acknowledged lion-translocation expert, says that while Gujarat has done a fabulous job of protecting the big cats, the lions might have reached the maximum density that Gir can sustain.

The return of the native

The return of the native
The Hindu

Asiatic lion: Relocating for lasting survival. Photo: N. Shiva Kumar

Adaptable: Lions can withstand the varying temperatures of central India. Photo: N. Shiva Kumar

The recent Supreme Court directive to reintroduce Asiatic lions in Madhya Pradesh's Kuno sanctuary will help give them a second lease of life, feel experts

India was the only country in the world to have five big cat species until recently. While the mile-a-minute cheetah has lost the race to survive in India, the tiger has its back to the wall, the sinewy snow leopard is barely surviving in its Himalayan abode, the Asiatic lion is languishing in its only tiny territory and the nimble leopard is maligned across the nation.

"All this is happening because of heavy human intrusion on the natural habitats which is depleting the graceful felines," says B.C. Choudhury, wildlife advisor with the Wildlife Trust of India.

At a time when the lion is languishing in its cocooned population at Gir sanctuary, the recent Supreme Court decision to translocate the Asiatic lions has left wildlife lovers excited. The re-introduction of the lions in some parts of their former range has long been deliberated for its lasting survival. Remarking on the reinstatement of Asiatic lions in Kuno Wildlife sanctuary, Dr. Asad Rahmani, director, Bombay Natural History Society, said: "It is a significant development and we welcome the move. Relocating some lions is a wonderful idea for the long-term survival of the species and should have been done much earlier."

Explaining the rationale, he said that the region where the re-introduction would take place was formerly a part of the natural range of Asiatic lions. Lions are adaptable animals and can withstand varying temperatures of central India. Dr. Rahmani, who is also a member of the National Board for Wildlife, has been quoted in the recent judgment saying that that sporadic presence of tigers in Kuno was in no case detrimental to re-introduction of lions.

Although designated as a National Park, three highways, a railway line and smaller roads crisscross Gir Sanctuary in Gujarat. Temples within the sanctuary is another bane which draw thousands of pilgrims each year "trampling the tranquillity" of the location. If that is not enough, the habitat faces a major forest fire risk.

With the entire wild population of about 400 Asiatic lions restricted to just one area, it is highly susceptible to various kinds of biological or man-made catastrophe. A major disaster can decimate the entire species in one stroke. Comprehending the necessity of providing Asiatic lions with an alternate home has become imperative.

Meanwhile, the Madhya Pradesh government has claimed that it is adequately equipped with all the necessary infrastructure, expertise and environment for translocation of the lions to Kuno sanctuary. Situated in the State's Sheopur district, the Kuno Wildlife Division is spread over 1,269 sq km. A section of the Asiatic lions will be translocated here which includes 344.68 sq km of Kuno Wildlie sanctuary. As Kuno has luxuriant grass with mixed forest, it supports all major prey species like chital, chinkara, sambar, nilgai and wild boars. The overall prey density is about 50 animals per sq km which is bounteous to meet the food needs of the about-to-be-introduced pride of lions from Gir.

Dr. Faiyaz A. Khudsar, the lead scientist at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park in Delhi who has worked for five years at Kuno, said: "The serpentine Kuno River flows from north to south splitting the entire sanctuary, thus providing a thirst quenching lifeline for thriving flora and fauna on both its banks. Over the years, all 24 villages from within the sanctuary were relocated and rehabilitated outside the sanctuary. Facilities such as roads, drinking water, electricity, irrigation, schools, fruit orchards, etc. were provided to the displaced villagers."

The judgement has given hope to wildlife experts in Rajasthan as a similar proposal in April 2009 to introduce the Asiatic lion in Kumbhalgarh, a historical site adjacent to the declared National Park of the same name was made. The wide enclosure of Kumbhalgarh Fort has structures of archaeological value and can also play host to Asiatic lions. The innovative proposal suggests that the wall will ensure the safety of lions in the protected area with support services like water holes, feral cattle and ungulates as prey food. Lion safaris can be organised to make the project self-sustaining and provide employment opportunities to the locals as an additional attraction, thereby increasing tourists and revenues.

Kamlesh Adhiya, founder president of Asiatic Lion Protection Society in Gujarat, said: "We should respect the judgment of the Supreme Court and not get into controversies. Instead we should all strive to complete the complex process of translocation as India has the technical know-how of moving animals safely."

Need to extend Asiatic lion's geographical limits: M K Ranjitsinh

Need to extend Asiatic lion's geographical limits: M K Ranjitsinh
Business Standard

Interview with chairman, Wildlife Trust of India

The Supreme Court has allowed the translocation of the Asiatic lions from Gir in Gujarat to the Palpur Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. Avantika Bhuyan talks to M K Ranjitsinh, chairman, Wildlife Trust of India, about the need for a second home and it suitability

Why has it been decided to shift some of the Asiatic lions to Madhya Pradesh?
Forty years ago too, when I was a member secretary of the Indian Board of Wildlife, a committee had been appointed to look for a second home for the lions outside Gujarat as a safeguard. Having the entire population restricted to Gir and Girnar is risky. What if there was an epidemic or contagion; it could wipe out the entire number. The canine distemper in Tanzania, for example, had led to the death of 400 lions in Serengeti. Moreover, why should the Asiatic lion not be restored to its original habitat? Nearly 125 years ago, lions were found in Madhya Pradesh and before that in Rajasthan. Gradually they got restricted to Gir. The move will benefit Kuno as well. When you shift an animal of such charisma, it has a cascading effect on the entire area. More personnel will have to be appointed which will help in better preservation of the area and of other endangered species. I am a great believer in restoring the apex species as it helps the entire ecosystem.

Is the move adequate to save the Asiatic lion from extinction?
This shift is an additional safeguard; it can't be a substitute for other conservation effort. The Gujarat government will have to continue to protect the main population in Gir. In recent years, the Gujarat government has undertaken considerable conservation efforts. Previously, lions that used to stray out of Gir would run foul of the local people, would get poisoned or get run down by vehicles. The ones that were found would be taken back to Gir. However, in recent years, lions that strayed have been allowed to form colonies outside of Gir and safeguards have been put in place to protect them. In some places, the government has extended the protected area to create a sanctuary. Large-scale recruitment of field staff has also taken place. The chief minister himself is taking a personal interest and that really helps the conservation efforts.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has said that when the Madhya Pradesh government is unable to protect the tigers in Panna, how will it protect the Asiatic lions? Your thoughts.
Protecting the lions at Kuno will become a prestige issue for the MP government. Media attention will also keep people on their toes. I feel that this is a risk worth taking. The situation in the state is much better now with considerable increase in anti-poaching efforts. In recent times, the number of prey animals has also increased. When there is enough prey for the lion, the animal-human conflict also go down. There has also been an increase in recruitment. The world's attention is focused on Kuno and I think they will be vigilant. There will always be some casualties and conflicts but one needs to extend the geographical limits of the Asiatic lion.

The Supreme Court has, as of now, not allowed the African cheetah from Namibia to be introduced in India.
The cheetah is an animal that we have lost in the past. Very few Asiatic cheetahs are left in Iran. There was a nice piece of habitat which was lying unutilised in Kuno, which, after considerable fieldwork, was found to be suitable for the cheetah. And it's not that the lion and the cheetah can't coexist. If you check Mughal records, some 200 years ago, the lion, cheetah, tiger and leopard used to coexist in one place. However, the Supreme Court feels that priority should be accorded to the Asiatic lion and other endangered species. So I don't think that the reintroduction of the cheetah will happen.

Is shfiting of Gir lions to Sheopur dangerous?

Is shfiting of Gir lions to Sheopur dangerous?
Times of India

If the Union ministry of forest and environment is concerned about the African cheetah being gunned down in Sheopur (MP), why is it not showing the same concern for the Asiatic lion? Any forester would tell you it is easier to kill a lion than a cheetah with a gun. The lion lives in perfect harmony with people of Saurashtra who share the habitat with all living beings. Gujarat should argue in a review petition before the Supreme Court that the shifting move is as good as sending the lions before a firing squad.

The Cat Women of Gir Forest

The Cat Women of Gir Forest
India Today

Raseela Vadher knows no fear. Unafraid, she ventures into Gir forest peering intently through the bush looking for signs of trouble. It is not the presence of wild animals that bothers her. She is on the lookout for poachers, illegal gangs felling prized teak trees, or local tribesmen lighting fires that could set the jungle ablaze.

Raseela Vadher knows no fear. Unafraid, she ventures into Gir forest peering intently through the bush looking for signs of trouble. It is not the presence of wild animals that bothers her. She is on the lookout for poachers, illegal gangs felling prized teak trees, or local tribesmen lighting fires that could set the jungle ablaze.

Remember the young woman forest guard Narendra Modi so proudly described to FICCI'S women entrepreneurs in Delhi on April 8? "More than lions, visitors are amazed at the sight of this gutsy girl who fearlessly walks amid a pride of wild lions," he said.

Just 26 years old and already a veteran of the Gujarat government's extraordinary initiative to protect the only natural abode of the Asiatic lion, Vadher is that young woman. From a poor family of Junagadh's Bhanduri village, she signed up as a forest guard in August 2008 and has by now been out on over a thousand successful missions, including about 350 to rescue lions in distress. She loves the forest and this is her dream job.

Like trophies from battle, she happily wears 15 deep scars from a nearfatal lion attack in the summer of 2012. And she is not alone: There are 40 other women van raksha sahayaks, equally driven and zealously watching over the Gir's precious bounty.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi's inspirational move in 2007 to employ women to guard the reserve forest may well have taken a cue from Gir's lionesses, who relentlessly hunt down the plentiful chinkara, nilgai or spotted deer to feed their pride, and turn fiercely protective when their cubs are threatened. Junagadh's women are proving equally enthusiastic in protecting the sanctuary.

An Asiatic lion at Gir
At last count (April 2010 census), there were 411 lions in the 1,412 sq km of reserve forest-52 more than the last count in 2005. There's been

more good news since Vadher and her colleagues joined. In November 2010, GPS monitoring of the big cats showed that as many as 50 adult lionesses were pregnant. Though surviving cubs from the births in early 2011 will only be counted in the next census in 2015, wildlife officials are confident "the pride will have grown significantly". The Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) at Gir, Sandeep Kumar, acknowledges the impact of the women guards. "The numbers are rising because they (the women guards) have been successful in creating a new awareness amidst women and children in villages near the forest," he says. Assuming a more gently persuasive approach than their male counterparts who worked this beat before, Vadher and her colleagues, like Jayshree Patat, 26, and Shabnam Rinbaloch, 24, have worked hard to win cooperation not just from local villagers but also from maaldharis, the semi-nomadic tribal herdsmen who live in the sanctuary.

Rinbaloch says her job in the sanctuary has been a hugely empowering experience. Belonging to a tribal Muslim community that did not let its womenfolk seek work outside home, she became the trailblazer for other young women in her village of Jamanvada. In 2009, three others joined what they proudly refer to as the 'women's brigade', each bringing home Rs.5,200 a month to add significantly to their meagre family incomes. Thrilled with the overwhelming success of the initial recruitments, Aradhana Sahu, deputy conservator of forests at Junagadh, and DFO Kumar, are preparing to hire 100 more, to buffer preservation and protection initiatives in the Gir forest. Kumar says 1,200 young women have applied to join training as forest guards this year.

Before Modi had his brainwave of recruiting women guards in 2007, the Gujarat Forests Department was a decidedly male bastion with just two women, both Indian Forest Service (IFS) officers, amid its ranks. "It was fascinating to watch them at work," says wildlife enthusiast Madhavendra Singh, who came to see the lions up close in Gir. But quite like what Modi spoke about at the FICCI gathering, the 27-year-old from Bhopal says he was completely stumped by the way the wild beasts appeared almost tame in the presence of the women guards. Tourists and animal lovers are returning to Gir in a flood; many, like Pune's Revati Krishnan, 40, inspired by Amitabh Bachchan's captivating 2011 campaign for Gujarat Tourism Department. In just two years, tourist footfall has doubled to 302,428 in 2012-13.

But for Gir's 'women's brigade', it is more than about getting visitors a decent photo opportunity with the big cats. "Preserving the forest is serious business," says 25-year-old Manisha Vaghela, who singlehandedly tracked down and apprehended a gang of nine motorcycle-borne poachers trying to hunt chinkara antelopes in 2011.

Armed with double-barrelled shotguns and walkie-talkie radios, the vigilant women fan out into the bush, unmindful of the danger-venomous snakes, crocodiles lurking around watering holes, a hungry leopard or angry lionesses protecting their cubs. On an average day, each of the women's patrols negotiates over 25 km of forest, even during peak summer months when temperatures inside the sanctuary top 45ºC.

Vilas Antana, 24, graduated in Sanskrit from a college in Amreli and knew nothing of wild animals till the day she signed up to work as a guard in Gir. As with many of her colleagues, the job has diluted her marital prospects, with few young men of her community willing to marry a woman who wears khaki and wields a shotgun. She is not overly bothered, though, happy instead with the independence her job provides. "I can now tell you scientific names of all the birds and animals in this forest," she says.

The lion's homecoming

The lion's homecoming
Business Standard

Wildlife enthusiasts will soon be able to see the lion in Madhya Pradesh also. Rajat Ghai traces the big cat's journey in India down the ages.

Once upon a kingdom
From Vedic and Biblical times to the 19th century AD, the Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica) roamed over a swathe of Asia, from Turkey in the west to Bihar in the east, and from the Caucusus in the north to the Narmada river in the south. In the Indian subcontinent, the lion lorded over Punjab (Pakistan and India), Sindh, Baluchistan, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Lions in the subcontinent largely inhabited dry, tree-covered Savannah and low-scrub jungle in comparison to the Bengal Tiger which inhabited mature-tree forests.

Ancient India
The lion's impact on South Asian history, culture and art is significant. Mahesh Rangarajan notes in his paper 'From princely symbol to conservation icon: A political history of the lion in India': "It (the lion) was perhaps only rivalled in its power over the human imagination in India by the tiger." Adds Divyabhanusinh Chavda, author of The Story of Asia's Lions: "In the Vedic period, you had Narasimha ("Man-Lion"), the fourth of the Dashavatara of Lord Vishnu. The Buddha was known as 'Shakya Simha', the Lion of the Shakyas. His first sermon at Sarnath has been likened to (and is known as) by Buddhists as 'Simhanada' (Lion Roar). The lion is also the symbol of Mahavira. And we, of course, know of Emperor Ashoka's association with the lion."

According to legend, 2,500 years ago, Vijaya, a disinherited Indian prince migrated to the island of Lanka with 700 followers. Vijaya's grandfather was a lion. His descendants, the Sinhala ('Lion people'), are today the majority ethnic group on the island, the flag of which is emblazoned with a lion too.

Medieval India
From 500 AD, Rajput princes across India started adopting the title Simha instead of the classical Varman. Today, we know this surname as 'Singh', most commonly associated with Rajputs and Sikhs.

Lions find constant reference in the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal periods too. Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan warlord from Bihar who dethroned Humayun, reportedly acquired the name 'Sher' after killing a lion with his bare hands. The Mughals, Persianised Turko-Mongols from Central Asia, used the regal Persian Sher-o-Khurshid ('Lion and Sun') as their personal coat-of-arms.

The Leonine Holocaust
Lions in India were never maneaters like their African cousins, but were notorious cattle thieves. They were also hunted for sport. "Colonel James Skinner (1778 -1841), the famous founder of Skinner's Horse and builder of Delhi's St James' Church, is recorded as shooting lions on horseback. Another officer, Andrew Fraser killed 84 lions," says Chavda. "In 1810, a General Mundy shot a lion near Hansi (modern Haryana). In the first half of the 1800s, British soldiers stationed at a cantonment in Deesa (North Gujarat) are recorded as spearing lions. And the all-time record in lion hunting in India goes to George Acland Smith, an officer who shot 300 lions near Delhi in 1857, on the eve of the Sepoy Mutiny," he adds.

Soldiers of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh sovereign of the Punjab, are recorded killing lions with bayonets in Lahore in the 1830s. In Patiala, hunting lions was an annual affair in which "400 horsemen beat vast plains teeming with antelope and Nilgai" (Rangarajan).

The End
All this killing eventually did its job. Region after region recorded local extinctions: Bahawalpur (1800), Palamau (1814), Haryana, Baroda and Ahmedabad (1830), Sindh (1842) and Gwalior (1872).

By 1890, when Prince Victor Albert visited India, the only place where he could find lions was the Gir forest in Kathiawar, where politics between three feuding princely states (Junagadh, Bhavnagar and Baroda) and the British Government in Bombay ensured safety for lions. Later, the Nawabs of Junagadh took on the task of preserving lions in Gir, where they survive till today.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Export the pride

Export the pride
The Hindu

The last lions of Asia found in Gir have been nurtured with great care by Gujarat. The protective hand of the government and people there enables an estimated 400 members of Panthera leo persica to survive today, overcoming a variety of challenges. This is an achievement that the State can be justifiably proud of. It is now time for Gujarat to build on its success and help improve the long-term survival prospects of these magnificent animals. Rather than stand on prestige, it must wholeheartedly accept the Supreme Court's decision directing that lions be translocated to create a second population in Kuno, Madhya Pradesh. Providing new habitat for the cats is important for several reasons. There is scientific consensus, for one, that Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary and its surrounding areas cannot support many more lions. More significantly, the existing isolated population could face annihilation in the event of a disease outbreak, or a natural disaster. These key questions were considered by experts at the Wildlife Institute of India and elsewhere two decades ago, before arriving at the conclusion that Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, among three locations, is best suited for translocation. Gujarat can easily identify a pride of five to eight lions to be moved, since they are now found even outside the protected area of Gir.

The fundamental test that the plan must satisfy is scientific. Happily, conservation science has matured considerably since a failed attempt was made over five decades ago to create a second home for lions in Chandraprabha Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh. The one significant issue to be addressed in Kuno is that of poaching. A reduction in the major prey base including large animals such as nilgai and spotted deer due to hunting automatically depresses big cat populations. The Madhya Pradesh government, which has spent large sums to relocate villagers and prepare the sanctuary for lions, should curb poaching effectively. Together with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, it must also double the protected area to 700 sq km and upgrade it to National Park status for viability. For Gujarat, there is much to gain from the rise of a second population. After all, the species is now emblematic of its home and commonly referred to as the 'Gir lion,' even if it comes to exist at a new location. Historically, Asiatic lions were free-ranging over a large area that included parts of central India and much of the northwest, and thrived in climates as varied as hot desert in Palestine and cold forests in Iran. As an experiment in species survival, the Kuno project must be actively pursued by Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and the Centre.

Unruly nilgais on dangerous bull run

Unruly nilgais on dangerous bull run
Times of India

Gujarat is still smarting over the loss of some of its Gir lions to Madhya Pradesh. But many states would gladly give away an animal whose burgeoning population is causing havoc in farms, airforce stations and on national highways â€" the blue bull or nilgai. So fraught has this man-animal face-off become that Bihar issued an order on February 19 for culling these animals in a restricted way.

For Rahul Gupta (name changed), a nilgai will always evoke trepidation. Recently, as he was driving down a national highway at 9 pm, a blue apparition suddenly jumped in front of his luxurious car. It was a nilgai -- big, agile and just as bewildered as Gupta. The car crashed, the bonnet crumpled. Fortunately, the airbags saved him. "But it will cost me Rs 22 lakh to repair the car," says Gupta. He was lucky. Last April, a toddler and his father were killed when their Santro turned turtle on ramming into a nilgai in Gurgaon.

Nilgais also raid farms and damage crops. "Poor farmers existing on subsistence agriculture can ill-afford this and are increasingly hostile to them," says Dr N P S Chauhan, head of population management, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. "After introduction of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972), many wildlife species, including nilgais, have increased considerably outside protected areas," says Chauhan in a research paper. This leaves crops as the only food available to them, says Bittu Sahgal, editor, Sanctuary Asia. Also, the decrease in predators -- wolves and jackals -- has further increased their numbers.

Nilgais, incidentally, come under Schedule III of the Wildlife Act. "Basically, this means that if a state government, under political pressure, wants to issue permissions to shoot nilgais, they can," says Sahgal. Constant skirmishes led the chief wildlife warden in Bihar to constitute a committee to issue licenses to kill them in a restricted way. The February 19 order states that the license to use stipulated firearms for culling will be valid for four weeks, that Rs 500 will be paid for each killing and Rs 1,000 for disposal of the body. Culling has also taken place in other states such as HP, MP and Gujarat.

Air force stations, too, are frequented by nilgai herds and use choppers to scare them away. Former group captain Pankaj Chopra says, "When I was the chief commanding officer of a forward station, I saw a nilgai and a MiG colliding on the runway. The plane turned turtle. We had a tough time extricating the pilot. The plane was written off." In 2008, an AI flight hit a nilgai at Chakeri airport in Kanpur. All escaped unhurt.

So what's the solution? "One should restore ecosystems so that the predator-prey ratio gets balanced," says Sahgal. "In the US where virtually every predator has been shot, humans have taken on this role and are turning the guns on animals." How about fencing highways or relocating them like the Gir lions, asks Gupta.

Easier said than done.

(Inputs from Madan Kumar in Patna)

Who’ll be the lion king? Shivraj Singh Chouhan challenges NaMo for ‘pride’ of place

Who’ll be the lion king? Shivraj Singh Chouhan challenges NaMo for ‘pride’ of place
Times of India

The collective word for lions is 'pride'. And never has this word been more appropriate than in the current context of the controversy created about some lions from the Gir forest of Gujarat being relocated, thanks to a Supreme Court order, to Madhya Pradesh - a move which appears to have stung the 'asmita' of the state presided over by Narendra Modi.

The proposal to shift a few of the Gir lions is based on the observations made by an environmentalist's report, which has subsequently been upheld by the apex court, that as it is deemed unwise to keep all one's eggs in one basket, it is also imprudent to keep all one's lions in a single forest. As of now, the endangered Asiatic lion has only one habitat left, namely Gir. Were an epidemic to strike the area, the leonine species could become extinct, at least in the wild.

Gir forest officials and other local residents have opposed the move, arguing that the badlands of Madhya Pradesh, rife with poachers and dacoits and short on natural prey for carnivores, are far from ideal for the resettlement of Gujarat's lions. However, there could be reasons other than environmental behind such resistance, which could be influenced by the compulsions of political symbolism. In popular lore, the lion is considered to be the king of the jungle. With his openly aired prime ministerial ambitions, Gujarat CM Narendra Modi is being projected by his supporters as being the future king of India's political jungle.

Coincidentally enough, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is seen by some in the BJP to be a serious rival to NaMo as the party's candidate for the PM's gaddi after the next general elections. Does the relocation of the Gir animals contain a political subtext, that ShiCho might outdo NaMo in grabbing the lion's share of intra-party support for the candidacy of the prime ministerial post?

Such suspicions might not be entirely baseless. Even as the king of the beasts in the wilderness must contend with adversaries in the form of wily shikaris, the political lion of Gujarat has found himself a formidable foe in Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, who has threatened to have his JD(U) quit the BJP-led NDA combine if NaMo is nominated as its PM-to-be.

Has the Gujarati lion met his match in the up-and-coming contender from Madhya Pradesh, not to mention the Bihari big game hunter who seems to have set his sights squarely on NaMo? It's said that pride goes before a fall, a saying which may hold true for lions of all varieties, zoological as well as political. But do watch this space as more thrilling episodes in this saga of contending lion kings unfold.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Beware Lion Brother Sister..dont go out jungle

Beware Lion Brother Sister..dont go out jungle
Print Edition

Lion found dead near Amreli village

Lion found dead near Amreli village
Times of India

A lion, said to be between three to five years of age, was found dead on the outskirts of Gorana village in Khambha taluka of Amreli district on Friday.

Deputy conservator of forests (Gir East division) Anshuman Sharma said the carcass of the animal was discovered by the villagers. The sarpanch informed the forest department officials who rushed to the spot. "The lion may have died five to six days ago. Its body was found in a decomposed condition from an area that is unapproachable and dry. We have got the post mortem conducted. There were no external injuries on the body and all its nails were found intact," said Sharma.

Sources said that a part of the body had been eaten up by some other animals. The officials had not found some of the nails of the animal when they went to the spot on Friday night. However, the missing nails were discovered close by on Saturday when they went to the spot in daylight.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Life for cheetah, death for lion

Life for cheetah, death for lion
The Times of India

It is almost like a firing squad waiting out there in the lion's new home in Madhya Pradesh where Gujarat's lions will be translocated in six months as per Monday's Supreme Court order.

The Kuno-Palpur wildlife sanctuary is in Sheopur district where the gun cult is strong. There are an estimated 4,800 firearms for a population of six lakh. And, these are only licensed firearms — the number of unlicensed weapons is likely to be much higher as this is the tip of Chambal valley, which is also infested with dacoits. Vijaypur tehsil, where the sanctuary is located, has 1,400 licensed weapons.

The non-violent culture of the lions home in Saurashtra is a heaven compared to Sheopur where game hunting for meat is common. The Gujarat government has stopped issuing new gun licences in the lion territory, mainly spread over Junagadh and Amreli districts, but such a move in MP will only make the local populace resentful of the lion's presence.

The gun issue has also been raised by none other than Ravi Chellam, scientist assisting the SC's 'forest bench' and also the brain behind the relocation project. He had in his report in 2012 stated, "It is worrying that poaching continues to be a conservation challenge in this area and gun ownership is widespread. Consumption of bush meat is still prevailing. This is clearly an unacceptable and dangerous situation."

Even the Union ministry of forest and environment, while it was considering moving the African cheetah to the same location in place of the Asiatic lion, has taken note of the gun cult in the proposed new home.

A ministry survey in 2011 stated "20.3% of respondents accepted either owning guns or presence of guns in the village. In the 21 villages out of the 41 surveyed villages people own guns. In more than half the village samples (51.22%), people possess guns, only 1.11% of respondents revealed that guns are being used for hunting."

The report further states, "In the areas surrounding Kuno, dacoits are still at large and people keep guns with or without licence for self defence. Poachers and illegal possessors of guns would in any case not admit the possession of weapons. Hence the reported presence of guns could be far lesser than the actual presence of guns."

Times View

If the Union ministry of forest and environment is concerned about the African cheetah being gunned down in Sheopur (MP), why is it not showing the same concern for the Asiatic lion? Any forester would tell you it is easier to kill a lion than a cheetah with a gun. The lion lives in perfect harmony with people of Saurashtra who share the habitat with all living beings. Gujarat should argue in a review petition before the Supreme Court that the shifting move is as good as sending the lions before a firing squad.

Shifting of lions: Sasan observes bandh

Shifting of lions: Sasan observes bandh
The Economic Times

The streets of Sasan, which are generally abuzz with activity since six in the morning, wore a deserted look on Thursday. The small town had given a bandh call to protest against the translocation of Asiatic Lions from Gir Sanctuary to KunoPalpur in Madhya Pradesh.

Sarpanch of Sasan village Laxmanbhai Dokhadia said villagers decided to observe bandh to send a message across that people of the region are opposed to the idea of translocation. "Even the jeep and guide owners' associations before beginning their routine work took out a rally and handed over a memorandum to the mamlatdar and forest officials," he added.

The villagers took out the protest rally from Sasan to Talala and gave a memorandum to the mamlatdar. As the news spread in Talala that the people of Sasan had come to register their protest against the translocation, Siddi community people and local residents joined them. The residents in the memorandum urged the state government to take measures and stop translocation of lions from the area to Madhya Pradesh. The residents claimed that the lions belonged to the people of region who have conserved the lions as their own children.

Meanwhile, a rally was taken out in Rajkot by nature lovers, who too urged the government to stop the translocation of lions. They also handed over a memorandum to the collector.

A group of nature lovers from Saurashtra have also launched a poster campaign. In the campaign, the nature lovers have urged people of the state to write to chief minister Narendra Modi to stop this.

People of Laiiya village, too, gave a memorandum to the mamlatdar. Manoj Joshi said the memorandum had signatures of over hundred people, urging to shift the lions.

Uproar in Sasan against lion relocation, bandh today

Uproar in Sasan against lion relocation, bandh today

Amid demands for review petition, an activist has threatened self-immolation.

The Supreme Court, in its judgment on Gir lions, may have quashed Gujarat's prejudices by sharing its Pride, but the state seems to be in no mood to let its hurt pride suffer in silence. An agitation is brewing against the verdict on translocation of lions from Gujarat to MP. Local tempers in the sanctuary are rising, so much so that some have also threatened to self-immolate if the committee to be set up on SC directions does not stop the shift.

"This is a very unfortunate decision, which is based on a biased report prepared by scientists.

I'm garnering public support against the decision and fifty of us ready to end our lives through self-immolation," claimed Dinesh Goswami, president of Kodinar-based Prakruti Nature Club.  

But some others believe that filing a review petition is the best option. "We have sent a memorandum demanding review of the case. We want state government to file a review petition in the issue. It is an SC verdict and our hands are tied," said Bhikhubhai Jethva, president of Khambha-Gir Nature Club.

"The argument under which translocation is approved by the Supreme Court is based on flawed research," said president of Sasan Gir Hotels Association, Mehul Mehta. He said that there is ample scope of relocation of lions in Gujarat itself.

Meanwhile, traders, hoteliers and forest beat guards are also joining the protest. The area is going to observe a bandh on Thursday under leadership of sarpanch of Sasan and Bhalchel. A protest rally has also been planned on Saturday which will be joined by residents in sanctuary area and villagers.

Govt to file review petition in lion translocation case
Gujarat Government on Wednesday decided to file a review petition in Supreme Court, challenging the apex court's directive to translocate of Asiatic Lions from Gir Forests to Kuno-Palpur in Madhya Pradesh. SC had on Monday ordered transfers of the lions to MP, creating a political and social stir in Gujarat.

"We have received copy of the judgement and have studied it primarily. The government has decided to fight the legal battle till the last option to ensure that the lions remain in Gujarat," said Nitin Patel, state finance minister and spokesperson, indicating that the government will be filing a protest petition in the matter. "We have argued in the case, in detail, and filed affidavits about the facts on Asiatic Lions, including its genesis to the recent development."

A senior government official, who has worked in the case, has indicated that it wouldn't be difficult for the government to stop transfer of lions to MP.

"In one of the affidavits filed, we have written about the lions' behaviour with locals in Gir," said the official. "People there love the animal and ensure its safety. The lion is habituated to human presence."

"This kind of peaceful, non-conflicting coexistence may not be possible in Madhya Pradesh," he added. "Also the area provided for the lion (in Madhya Pradesh) isn't enough. There is possibility of lion-tiger, lion-human conflicts."

Sasan bandh against SC verdict on trans-location of lions

Sasan bandh against SC verdict on trans-location of lions
Hindustan Times

Villages and towns around the Gir wildlife sanctuary located in Junagadh district including Sasan village on Thursday observed a total bandh to protest the Supreme Court ruling on trans-location of some of the Asiatic lions to Madhya Pradesh.

The bandh call was given by Gir Nature Club and supported by various organisations - including trade unions, Sasan Hotel association and guide association.

A rally was on Thursday taken out which submitted a memorandum to the Sasan Mamlatdar in this regard, Sasan Hotel Association secretary Pyaru Vadsariya said.

Sasan is a village on the boundary of Gir sanctuary and is the main entry point to it.

The Supreme Court had on Monday allowed trans-location of Asiatic lions from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh, saying the species is under threat of extinction and needs a second home.

"We respect our judicial system but the decision on shifting of lions to Madhya Pradesh has been taken without proper scrutiny," the memorandum said.

"Trans-location of some Asiatic lions to Madhya Pradesh is improper because in the past some lions were shifted there and could not match the atmosphere there and failed to survive," it said adding that "Gir is the only place where the atmosphere is suitable to the Asiatic lions."

Gujarat finance minister and state spokesperson Nitin Patel had on Wednesday said that the state government would be exploring "all legal options" against the SC verdict.

Gir forest region protests against
verdict on lions

Gir forest region protests against
verdict on lions
Khaleej Times

 Even as the Gujarat government was all set on Thursday to file a review petition against Monday's Supreme Court order to shift some of the state's 411 rare Asiatic lions to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, wildlife enthusiasts and locals living outside the Gir forest near Junagadh launched an agitation to save 'the pride of Gujarat'.
Villages and towns around the 1,450-square-km wildlife sanctuary observed a total shutdown on Thursday to protest the apex court ruling to translocate the big cats from their only abode in the world.

The bandh call given by the Gir Nature Club evoked tremendous response as it was backed by associations of hotels, travel agents and guides as well as trade unions.

A memorandum submitted to the mamlatdar at Sasan village near Gir said that the decision on shifting of the endangered species had been taken without proper scrutiny. Some villagers even threatened to commit self-immolation if the majestic animals were relocated from Gujarat.

The Supreme Court had on Monday allowed translocation, saying the lions were on the verge of extinction and needed a second home.

Egged on by support from even opposition parties, the Narendra Modi administration which had been fighting a court battle over shifting of lions since 2007 has now decided to explore all legal options to challenge the court verdict. Spokesman Nitin Patel told journalists after Wednesday's cabinet meeting that the state government would fight till all legal options were exhausted.

A group of local youths also held a protest in Sasan against Dr Ravi Chellam, a scientist of the Wildlife Institute of India who was formally thanked by the Supreme Court for his assistance during the six-year-long legal wrangle.

The protesters carried placards against Chellam and shouted 

Congress MLA from Talala Jasu Barad told Khaleej Times that the people in Gir had been opposing the very idea of translocation of lions because of their emotional attachment with the animals.

Bhikha Jethwa, father of slain wildlife activist Amit Jethwa, dashed off a letter to Modi urging him to file a review petition, and the Gir Nature Youth Clubs founded by his son submitted a memorandum in this regard in various talukas.

The SC order also said that the number of lions to be relocated from Gir to their second home in the Kuno wildlife sanctuary will be decided by a committee of wildlife experts.

At least 92 lions have died in the past two years in Gir but intense conservation efforts by the state Gujarat government over the past 50 years have brought them back from the brink of extinction. 

Sasan bandh against SC verdict on trans-location o

Sasan bandh against SC verdict on trans-location o
Zee News

Villages and towns around the Gir wildlife sanctuary located in Junagadh district including Sasan village Thursday observed a total bandh to protest the Supreme Court ruling on trans-location of some of the Asiatic lions to Madhya Pradesh.

The bandh call was given by Gir Nature Club and supported by various organisations - including trade unions, Sasan Hotel association and guide association.

A rally was today taken out which submitted a memorandum to the Sasan Mamlatdar in this regard, Sasan Hotel Association secretary Pyaru Vadsariya said.

Sasan is a village on the boundary of Gir sanctuary and is the main entry point to it. The Supreme Court had on Monday allowed trans-location of Asiatic lions from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh, saying the species is under threat of extinction and needs a second home.

"We respect our judicial system but the decision on shifting of lions to Madhya Pradesh has been taken without proper scrutiny," the memorandum said.

"Trans-location of some Asiatic lions to Madhya Pradesh is improper because in the past some lions were shifted there and could not match the atmosphere there and failed to survive," it said adding that "Gir is the only place where the atmosphere is suitable to the Asiatic lions."

Gujarat Finance Minister and state spokesperson Nitin Patel had yesterday said that the state government would be exploring "all legal options" against the SC verdict.

Gir villages shut for a day for ‘their’ lions

Gir villages shut for a day for 'their' lions
The Indian Express

Protesters march at Sasan on Thursday. Express

Days after the Supreme Court ordered for the trans-location of Asiatic lions from Gir forests to Madhya Pradesh, Sasan, the well-known destination for lion safaris, and other villages bordering the wildlife sanctuary observed a bandh and submitted a memorandum to the local revenue officer.

Hotel owners of Sasan and local shopkeepers took out a rally in the village and they were joined by residents of nearby villages like Chitrod, Bhjde and Vihvel.

Sasan is a village on the boundary of Gir sanctuary and is the main entry point to it.

Volunteers of NGO Prakruti Nature Club of Kodinar and Environment Protection Committee, another NGO based in nearby Veraval town, also took part in the rally.

Later in the day, the protesters drove in a cavalcade of Maruti Gypsies, used for safaris, to Talala town and submitted a memorandum to mamlatdar demanding that the state government file a review petition in the apex court against its Monday verdict.

"Lion-based tourism is the only means of livelihood for residents of all these villages. If lions are trans-located to Madhya Pradesh, we shall lose tourists and in turn our means of sustenance. Hence we demand the state government file a review petition in the Supreme Court," Khimji Sandera, president of Sasan Gypsy Association, told The Indian Express over phone.

During the day-long shutdown, shops and many hotels in the Sasan remained closed while no lion safari was organised. However, Sandera said they would resume work from Friday but their fight against sending Asiatic lions from their only habitat in Gir to Madhya Pradesh

The curious case of Gujarati lions

The curious case of Gujarati lions
Mumbai Mirror

We must focus our attention to safeguard the interest of the species

Newspaper reports would have us believe that this was a political tussle between the neighbouring states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, dumbing down a serious issue to something infantile, like two children squabbling over a plaything. It is anything but that. Whether some lions from Gujarat's Gir forest should be translocated to another site in Madhya Pradesh raises several difficult questions about viable wildlife conservation strategies and environmental law.

The Asiatic lion, panthera leo persica, so far only found in the forests of Gir in Gujarat, is an endangered species. There are just over 400 of these creatures in the wild as of 2010. At the turn of the 20th century there were less than a dozen. Hunting lions has been banned since before Independence. Their numbers have since grown, though nearly 50 die each year.

In the mid-1980's, concerned about the inherent fragility of an endangered species in a single habitat, and the potential catastrophe in the event of an epidemic, scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) began studying the lions and the Gir forests. They concluded that a second additional site for the lions was essential to their survival. They suggested three sites, two in Rajasthan and one in Madhya Pradesh, of which the latter was thought to be optimal. Madhya Pradesh began relocating villages from the Kuno sanctuary to other areas.

This was done in a phased manner, under the supervision of a special monitoring committee. Madhya Pradesh is known for its tiger population, but in Kuno tiger densities are low and inconsequential. The WII also studied the prey base in Kuno in 2005.

Creating states based on regional identity fans needless jingoism and obscures larger, nation-wide or even global concerns. All states so created have this tendency and it manifests itself in different ways. In Gujarat, the problem is exacerbated by the fusing of the state's identity with that of its Chief Minister, or our Prime-Minister-In-Perpetual-Waiting, Mr Narendra Modi. The proposal to shift some (note: not all) lions to better their chance of survival and guard against their extinction was met, predictably, with howls of protest from Gujarat claiming that this 'wounding of the pride of Gujarat' was a political conspiracy to undermine Modi and impoverish the state and undo NaMo's fabled 'development model'. A PIL was filed in the Supreme Court (but of course). Gujarat submitted a 7-point list of objections to the National Board of Wildlife: the presence of tigers, inappropriate climatic conditions in Kuno, insufficient prey base, the lions in Gujarat have been spreading out, that Gujarat has an effective lion conservation campaign. Several meetings and affidavits and years later, the PIL was finally heard by the Supreme Court and decided last Monday.

While the arguments on both sides have remained much the same since the debate began, what is of interest, and what makes this decision especially important, is that the Supreme Court set out the legal standard by which such matters are to be decided and gauged: "while examining the necessity of a second home for the Asiatic lions, our approach should be eco-centric and not anthropocentric, and we must apply the 'species best interest standard', that is the best interest of the Asiatic lions. We must focus our attention to safeguard the interest of the species, as these species have equal rights to exist on this earth. ... We, as human beings, have a duty to prevent a species from going extinct ..." The threat of extinction was very much a determinative factor in this decision.

Animals have no regional identity. Why, they do not even have Aadhaar cards. Imagine that. A tiger is a tiger from India, not a tiger from Assam or Rajasthan.

The lion is the Asiatic lion, not some khamandhokla sub-species, and it is the merest accident that it lives in Gir. There is no reason it should be confined to that forest, for Gir is not, as last advised, the Tihar jail for lions. Animals belong to the nation, and to all mankind. The Court duly rubbished Gujarat's proprietary claims: "No state, organisation or person can claim ownership or possession over wild animals in the forest."

The court was, it seems, on a more slippery slope when it said that Kuno is the 'historical habitat' of the Asiatic lion. If this is to be understood to mean that lions are indigenous to the area, then there is very little evidence of it. In their new book, "Exotic Aliens: The Lion & the Cheetah in India", Valmik Thapar, Romila Thapar and Yusuf Ansari conclude that the lion was never an indigenous species. It seems to have been introduced as an exotic trophy, kept as a pet or bred for hunting, very likely brought in via northwest India perhaps around 550-330 BCE and later again at the time of Alexander.

The lion only "leaps into prominence with Ashoka Maurya in the third century BCE" as a "symbol of supremacy and authority".

We are familiar with at least one form of this representation, from the lion capital at Sarnath of four lions back-to-back each facing one of the four points of the compass. It is not accident that this is today our national emblem, one that appears on our passports, currency, government letterheads and, yes, our courts.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Endangered in Narendra Modi’s lair, LK Advani may do a Gir Lion

Endangered in Narendra Modi's lair, LK Advani may do a Gir Lion
Daily Bhaskar

With Gujarat CM Narendra Modi making his prime ministerial ambitions clear, BJP stalwart LK Advani is wary of his position and plans to switch his constituency from Gandhinagar, Gujarat, to a relatively safe seat in Madhya Pradesh (MP).
Sources told DNA that Advani's well-wisher's were in touch with MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan to end any chances of a 'sabotage' in Gujarat. They feel the shift from Gandhinagar to MP will end Advani's dependence on the Gujarat CM.
Advani's advisors initially wanted him to contest the 2014 election from Lucknow, a seat once represented by former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, with the fast-changing loyalties within the BJP, Modi has laid a claim on both Gandhinagar and Lucknow constituencies to in an attempt to showcase his national acceptance.
Allies such as the Janata Dal (United) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) are rooting for Advani as the prime ministerial candidate, leading to a war between the BJP patriarch and his protégé Modi.
"If Advaniji is available to lead the party and the government, that should end all discussions," BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said. SAD leader Naresh Gujaral said nobody can have any objection to Advaniji.
With Modi also nursing prime ministerial ambitions, Advani is seen as a moderate face to replace Vajpayee.
Political observers, however, are surprised that Advani plans to contest the election as the RSS had sent him feelers to retire from politics.

Supreme Court approves translocation of some of Gujarat’s lions to Madhya Pradesh

Supreme Court approves translocation of some of Gujarat's lions to Madhya Pradesh
The Times of India

The Supreme Court's decision to permit the translocation of the Asiatic lion from its only home in Gujarat's Gir forest to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh is prudent. The translocation project is a long pending one and should serve to protect Asiatic lion numbers. As things stand, the entire population of the species — concentrated in the Gir habitat — risks being wiped out in case of an epidemic or a natural calamity. In such a scenario, having a second home for the lions would insure them against their extinction.

In this context, the Gujarat government's effort to stonewall the translocation project defies logic. It's true that the state needs to be lauded for the success of the Gir lions. But to object to the translocation of a handful of lions on the basis of Gujarati pride is petty. Protecting our animal species is a collective responsibility. Gujarat's contention that the new habitat isn't conducive for the lions doesn't cut ice either. The National Board for Wildlife approved the Kuno sanctuary after a detailed study. The area also happens to be a historical habitat of the lions. Besides, in recent years Madhya Pradesh has shown considerable success with the translocation of tigers at its Panna reserve. There is no reason why it can't replicate this with the lions.

On the other hand, failure to shift the lions to a second home may see them meet a fate similar to that of Tanzania's lion population, which was almost wiped out due to an epidemic. Confined to a single site the Gir lions are in danger of excessive inbreeding, leading to various infirmities in the lion population. If Gujarat truly cares about its lions, it would do well to drop its objection to the translocation project and help Madhya Pradesh script its own lion success story.


Listen to lion's protectors

Renuka Bisht

Once upon a time, the Asiatic lion used to majestically stride across India, from Punjab to Madhya Pradesh (MP), Gujarat to Jharkhand. Further afield, its roars could be heard over Iran, Iraq, Syria and a lot of Eurasia really. Coming close to extinction in the early 20th century, this big cat now rambles wild only in Gujarat's Gir sanctuary. That's a wondrous and rare conservation triumph. In a well-governed universe, the architects of such success would lead the way in projects aimed at extending their triumph to new territories. But conservation can't escape the dystopic governance that overruns the rest of India. Red tape, bureaucracy, court orders—any and all authorities ride roughshod over the voice of the only sanctuary that has nurtured the Asiatic lion to good health.

Less than a decade ago, there was a very real fear that the Gir lion would go the way of the Panna tiger. But during the years that the MP government wouldn't even admit to rampant poaching, the Gujarat government was devoting money and concern to the menace. It was also learning important lessons by trial and error. Its forest department evolved from ousting pastoralists to befriending them as an integral part of the Gir ecosystem—briskly compensating them for assailed cattle, efficiently getting the private sector to sponsor sub-projects like making villagers' wells safe for lions.

When they have so much good experience under their belt, it's irrational to ignore the voice of these Gir experts when they question the translocation of their lions to a MP habitat that suffers poaching as well as climatic and bio-diverse peculiarities that make it unlikely for the Asiatic lion to thrive there. But it seems that conservation in India is not about animals but about politics and officialese.

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