Saturday, March 21, 2015

Gujarat Government Makes a Strong Scientific Persuasion in Supreme Court for its Lions

A family of Asiatic lions in Gir Forest

The debate about the reintroduction of Asiatic lions outside of Gir Forest National Park has solely been a political issue, rather than a scientific issue. But now, there appears to be a change in this debate with the government of Gujarat having recently submitted to the Supreme Court what could be the first scientific argument about reintroducing lions in the state of Madhya Pradesh from a state government. Instead of relying on formalities, the government of Gujarat presented before the Supreme Court scientific studies and guidelines of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) indicating that reintroducing lions from Gir Forest to Madhya Pradesh's Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary may not be a proper move. The argument was presented in the form of an affidavit registered in response to a petition by Wildlife Conservation Trust (WTC), Rajkot, challenging the Supreme Court's order made on April 15, 2013 directing the translocation of lions. The government of Gujarat suggested that there is no immediate ground for translocating lions as the animals do not face any threat of extinction for the next century. In fact, it has hinted that the translocation may prove to be rather detrimental for tigers in Madhya Pradesh. The state government has cited a report by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) that highlights Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary as an important passageway for tiger movement between Ranthambore National Park and Sehore district. Last month, a panel comprised of twelve members asked for maiden opinion from the NTCA whether lions and tigers can coexist in Palpur-Kuno or if the group would instead prefer the wildlife sanctuary as an exclusive tiger habitat.

This move made by the government of Gujarat marks for the first time that a state government has provided an adequate argument with scientific backing in the ongoing debate of India's lion translocation project. Earlier, the arguments for and against the reintroduction of lions did not present any scientific analysis in favor or against the much-debated conservation issue. The only scientific arguments for the reintroduction of lions in Madhya Pradesh were made by wildlife experts and conservationists, who warned that a natural cataclysmic event could threaten to wipe out the entire world's population of Asiatic lions if no action is taken. Now, the government of Gujarat has presented its argument against the reintroduction with proper scientific facts by the IUCN and the NTCA citing that it is not a correct move. It argued that reintroducing lions in Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary would interfere with the movement of tigers between Ranthambore National Park and Sehore district. Hopefully, this argument provided by the government of Gujarat will help the Supreme Court whether to reconsider its decision about bringing lions to Madhya Pradesh or continue allowing the reintroduction project to take place. In the meantime, Gujarat needs to work on identifying important corridors that help facilitate the movement of lions beyond the borders of Gir Forest National Park and provide protection from human encroachment. This is very crucial since lions are encountering numerous human-made obstacles that are affecting their movement outside Gir Forest.

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