Gujarat is home to the only population of Asiatic Lions. Of course, the state considers lions as its pride and has attracted several tourists to the area. The Gir forest holds the entire population of the species. It has for long been recommended for the translocation of some of these wild cats of the Gir forest to a sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. Various organizations like Municipal Corporation of Baroda/Sayyaji Baug Zoo, Forest Department of Gujarat, Zoo Outreach Organization / CBSG, India, Wildlife Institute of India are some organizations that have selected Kuno wildlife sanctuary in MP as the best for the reintroduction of lions. The MP government then relocated 1500 families outside the sanctuary that has been preparing for the introduction of the species.
The species was categorized as critically endangered till 2008 but conservation efforts elevated the status of the Asiatic lions to endangered. Though this sounds positive, it carries significant dangers. The Gir forest spreads across 1400 sq km and is currently holding double the population of lions that it can comfortably support. Several lions are known to hunt cattle and often die due to conflict with humans.
The issue of translocation is not a very recent issue. The government had ordered Gujarat to transfer lions as long ago as the 1990s but the order was to no effect. In 2006, Biodiversity Conservation Trust of India filed a PIL to bring the decision into effect. In April 2013, the Supreme Court had ordered the Gujarat government for the translocation of some lions to Kuno but the decision has still not been followed. The SC had given Gujarat 6 months to complete the task, but let alone reintroducing the population of lions in MP, the committee that was responsible to complete the task met only 6 times to take forth the efforts. The Gujarat government has managed to delay the reintroduction by asking to complete other pending projects and mentioning that Kuno will not be able to offer enough prey to the cats. In reality, the government is trying to complete projects which are not mandatory as precursors to introduction and Kuno has a higher prey density than Gir. The state government is not willing to allow their ”state pride” to exist anywhere else in the country.
Last year, 24 lions died of the Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) which is known to have caused over a 1000 deaths of African lions in the past. The lions have also suffered from other infections and problems like human-wildlife conflict and overcrowding in Gir. It is advisable to maintain a species in different habitats which are far away from each other. Imagine, the lion reserve in Gujarat is hit by some natural calamity; we will lose the entire population of lions all at once. Therefore it is better to maintain the species in other reserves.
The Indian government has reintroduced animals like tigers, swamp deer and gharials. The reintroductions have helped sustain populations of the mentioned species across states.
This year, Gujarat’s lions have received 59 Cr. for conservation but with them struggling to come out of inbreeding and overpopulation, it is highly unlikely that the money will lead to real conservation