TWO DAYS after a top official of the Central government sought to know the opinion of the Gujarat government regarding the translocation of Asiatic lions to Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat Chief Wildlife Warden Shyamal Tikadar on Wednesday reiterated the latter’s long-held position of not being in favour of the translocation.
“Forest Department of Government of Gujarat is never in favour of translocation of the lion outside Gujarat… the lions inhabited only in Gir PA (Protected Area), which is 1,883 sq km and today, it has reached up to Chotila of Surendranagar District… and expanded to 30,000 sq km,” Tikadar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden of Gujarat, stated in a media release on Wednesday. “Lions are the pride of Gujarat… Forest Department and Government of Gujarat is committed to lion conservation.”
The statement came two days after Soumitra Dasgupta, Additional Director General (Wildlife) in the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), stated that the Central government had not abandoned the process of translocating Asiatic lions to Madhya Pradesh. He had sought to know Gujarat’s view on the matter while speaking at a webinar hosted by the Central Zoo Authority to commemorate World Lion Day on August 10.
Dasgupta had underlined the fact that in 2013, after ruling in favour of creating a second home for Asiatic lions by translocating a few of them to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court had given six months’ time to implement its order. As per the direction of the SC, an expert committee was set up by the MoEFCC to oversee the translocation process. However, till date, not a single Gir lion has been transported to MP.
Tikadar’s statement on Wednesday reiterated the line of argument by the Gujarat government when it had opposed the SC petitions demanding the translocation of lions. The Gujarat government had stated that lions were the pride of the state and like family members to local communities, that the big cats were safe in Gujarat and that their population and range was growing. However, the SC had ruled against this line of argument and observed, “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.” Gujarat’s review petition and subsequent curative petition were also rejected by the Apex court.
Owing to conservation efforts by the Gujarat government, the lion population has seen a steady growth over the past four decades. In his media statement, Tikadar underlined these factors and said. “…Forest Department is taking all possible steps for the long-term conservation of the lion and lion landscape. Department is doing its best in the larger interest of the lion and Gir… Lions, which were on the verge of extinction during the pre-independence era, have grown to the number of 674 today, due to the initial contribution of the then Nawab of Junagadh, the local people and communities of Saurashtra and Forest Department. Even the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has upgraded the status of lion from critically endangered to endangered,” read the release.
While opposing pleas for translocation, Gujarat had also submitted that Barda Wildlife Sanctuary in Porbandar district was being prepared as a second home for lions within Gujarat. However, a day after the webinar, Tikadar had had told The Indian Express that there was not much progress on that proposal as around 300 families of cattle-herders living in the Barda sanctuary were yet to be rehabilitated.