Gujarat Loses Lion Share


 [highlight]-Shashwat Anand, Nirma University.[/highlight]

Asiatic lions

The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government had asked the Gujarat government to send a few lions from Gir to Kuno Palpur sanctuary. However, the Gujarat government had argued against the need to move the Asiatic lions, saying that the Kuno reserve isn’t suitable for lions as it houses tigers, and its weather and environment aren’t conducive for their survival. Asiatic lion is listed as endangered by International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) based on the small population size and exists as a single isolated population in Gujarat.

Currently, there are around 400 Asiatic lions in Gujarat’s Gir sanctuary. In response of a PIL filed in Supreme Court regarding the translocation of Asiatic Lion, 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. 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.”

The Court asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to take urgent steps for reintroduction of a small number of lions to Kuno from Gir on the ground that the highly-endangered species needed to be dispersed to eliminate the risk of extinction in case of an epidemic outbreak. Bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice C.K. Prasad has given a time of six months to the Gujarat government to move some of the Asiatic lions from Gir Sanctuary to Kuno Palpur wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.

[quote]Responding to Gujarat government’s argument that lions should not be moved out of Gujarat, a bench of Justice K S Radhakrishnan and Justice C K Prasad said, “No state, organization or person can claim ownership or possession over wild animals in the forest. Animals in the wild are properties of the nation for which no state can claim ownership and the state’s duty is to protect wildlife and conserve it… The cardinal issue is not whether the Asiatic lion is a ‘family member’ or is part of ‘Indian culture and civilization’, or is ‘the pride of a state’.” The main issue was to see what was in the best interest of the endangered species, it added.[/quote]

[highlight]While ordering the lion relocation, the court took lessons from a calamitous canine distemper disease outbreak which had wiped out 85% of the lion population in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park in 1994. It said compared to Serengeti, the lion population in Gir was concentrated in a much smaller area and a similar disease could play havoc with the endangered species population.[/highlight]