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Trigger happy Britain now turns saviour of Asian lion (Feb.)


Pioneer, Delhi, Monday 17th February 2014

With plans afoot to translocate a few Gir lions to Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh, the big cats from the sanctuary are now finding international takers from the Zoological Society London (ZSL). The latter is at present planning a £5.7 million project, which aims at saving the Asian lion, now restricted to the forests of Gir in Gujarat. The London Zoo wants to translocate seven lions from the Gir forest for captive breeding.

The ZSL project includes increasing the size of the lion population from existing five to 12 in its London Zoo enclosure, besides funding conservation work in the Gir Forest National Park. However, unlike the Gujarat Government’s insistence on not sending its lions to MP, the offer of London Zoo is not likely to be rejected, considering the financial offer.   

The Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) CN Pandey confirmed that a team from ZSL London Zoo had visited Gir some time ago. “The details of sending the lions are being worked out. According to their bylaws, the ZSL London Zoo will contribute funds towards conservation of the Asiatic lion in its home range in Gujarat,” he said. The Gir Forest National Park is surrounded by human landscapes. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are fears that the current size of the lion population “is larger than the estimated carrying capacity of the habitat and prey base”.

Bhushan Pandya, who has been photographing Gir for the last three decades, and works closely with Wildlife Conservation Trust (India), has welcomed the London Zoo project. But he warned that it is difficult to reintroduce such animals back into the wild after they have been bred in captivity. The secret to Gir’s success is that lions and local communities have found a way to live in “unusual harmony”.

The experts pointed out that during the (British) Raj, huge lion hunts were responsible for the widespread loss of lions in India. It is time that UK gives something back in return, they contend. According to certain estimates, the number of Asiatic lions has fallen to 20 across the world. There are now more than 400 lions in Gir. The plans to translocate some lions from Gir to Kuno Palpur have not made much headway. According to a 25-year-long translocation programme, every three to five years, two to three lions, mostly male, should be translocated from Gir to Kuno to maintain the right balance of population in the two sanctuaries.

However, the Gujarat Government is opposed to translocation of lions from Gir and is expected to soon file a curative petition following the SC directive on translocation last year. Nonetheless, the Environment Ministry is expected to push through the implementation of the plan after financial approvals and other clearances.