The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has recently been reported that it is not keen on reintroducing Asiatic lions from Gir Forest to the state of Madhya Pradesh which was part of the animals' historical range in India and where they were last documented in the 19th century. The over-twenty year old plan has achieved political connotations in current years with Prime Minister Narendra Modi making it an issue of Gujarati self-esteem when he was the chief minister of the state. The plan to reintroduce some of the lions from Gir Forest was clarified by the Supreme Court of India in April 2013 in which it ordered the MoEF to move some of the lions to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh by October of that year. The court developed a committee comprised of representatives of the ministry, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, and independent wildlife experts. By October 2013, the committee had came up with a plan but the operation got dropped again with the government of Gujarat suing the Supreme Court's order. The court dismissed the appeal in August 2014. Last week, the ministry called a meeting of the committee in which a senior member indicated that the meeting substantially analyzed the procedure. The analysis showed that there has been no positive progress at all and that issue has become more of a concern to politics than conservation. Representatives of the ministry stated that the committee has been requested to "revise the action plan" within a month. They further added that government officials from Madhya Pradesh who showed up at the meeting stated that there was now sufficient prey for the lions at Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary--one of the reasons apparently alleged by Gujarat to oppose the reintroduction. The government of Madhya Pradesh had previously spent over 60 crore rupees on developing the wildlife sanctuary and relocating villagers. In a late interview, Minister of Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar refused to comment on the progress of the reintroduction exercise and alleged that the issue was still before the court. A second member of the committee, when asked about the condition of obscurity, answered that he does not think the ministry will authorize the reintroduction given Prime Minister Modi's previous opposition.
|Map of proposed reintroduction sites for Asiatic lions (light blue) in India. Gir Forest (dark blue) is the current home, while Chandraprabha (light pink) was a former proposed site for reintroduction.|
The debate over the reintroduction of the Asiatic lion has gone far enough. This had previously been and continues to become a political issue and not a conservation issue in India. And while it is still being carried out, lions are continuously making their way beyond the vicinity of Gir Forest due to increase in their population and encountering a wide-range of man-made obstacles along the way. It is time that politicians and anybody involved in politics in India stayed away from this matter and let wildlife conservationists and environmentalists deal with it. The Asiatic lion once ranged throughout western, central, and northwest India before being restricted primarily in Gujarat's Gir Forest National Park. After decades of conservation efforts, its population increased dramatically with an estimated 411 individuals recorded in 2010. But now, these majestic animals have been disembarking beyond Gir Forest to recolonize areas in Gujarat where they once roamed and are encountering several obstacles along the way that are threatening their lives. This is why it is extremely crucial to consider reintroducing these lions in other parts of India where they historically roamed in an effort to further expand their home range. Furthermore, the need for relocation is necessary since an epidemic or some natural disaster could decimate the subspecies. The Asiatic lion is not just a pride of Gujarat, but also the pride of India as a whole along with the tiger.
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