A single pride of five to ten Asiatic lions with 60-70 per cent female population is likely to be first set of lions to be translocated from Gujarat’s Gir forest to Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh over the next two years.
An expert report detailing the court-ordered translocation has recommended that a whole pride of lions from the core of the Gir forest be chosen for the experiment. A minimum of two male lions would also be moved, according to the action plan, which has been submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests by wildlife scientist Ravi Chellam and Y V Jhala from the Wildlife Institute of India.
The action plan, formulated keeping in mind a 25-year-long translocation programme, suggests that every three to five years, two-three lions — mostly male — should be translocated from Gir to Kuno to maintain the inter-linkage between lion populations in the two sanctuaries.
Having learnt their lesson from the translocation of tigers, efforts would be made to curb the ‘homing instincts’ of the lions. A one-acre fenced enclosure in Kuno sanctuary would be the first home of the translocated animals for three-six weeks so they get familiar with the geography of the new forest.
During a tiger’s relocation from Pench to Panna reserve, the animal kept trying to find her way back to Pench as the homing issue was not addressed.
December to February has been identified as the best season to translocate the lions. The process would be carried out after the animals are tranquillised and they would possibly through moved using IAF choppers — the journey takes about one hour.
The animals would be moved in groups of two-three. The exercise would also involve importing sophisticated radio collars for all lions, a secure enclosure, and qualified personnel. This staff would be provided with training, veterinary equipment and patrolling vehicles.
A team of experts and MoEF officials are expected to visit Kuno sanctuary this month. While there is now a healthy prey base thanks to the cheetal population, issues related to poaching and the gun culture in the area around the sanctuary would be reassessed, sources said.
Incidentally, the Gujarat government is opposed to translocation of lions from Gir. However, following a Supreme Court order in April 2013, the decks have been cleared for the exercise. The MoEF is expected to push through the implementation of the plan after financial approvals and other clearances. But the Gujarat government is expected to soon file a curative petition challenging the translocation.
The parties concerned have been directed to submit reports on the current status of construction.