The Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has recently informed the Lok Sabha that the government has formed a committee to look into translocation of Asiatic Lions. The MoEFCC formed a committee to assess the suitability of habitat for lions in potential sites in Gujarat.
The committee will also make recommendations on natural lion dispersal and the modalities for establishing lion populations in newly identified Gujarat sites.
- The Committee has recommended a participatory management approach for expanding lion population, greater involvement of communities and awareness and sensitisation programmes, especially in newly occupied territories.
- The central government had in previous years been considering the translocation of Asiatic Lions to other states, a proposal that never materialised.
- The Centre had identified Kuno National Park as one of the protected areas that could house the Asiatic Lion and had thus prepared to receive them.
- With all preparations completed and no lions in sight, the park will now receive India’s first lot of cheetahs from Africa next month.
- The MoEFCC is providing financial assistance to the state of Gujarat for lion conservation activities, including habitat improvement, water management, grassland development and prey augmentation.
About the ‘Asiatic Lion’ –
- Endemic to Gir landscape of Gujarat, the Asiatic Lion (Scientific name – Panthera leo persica) is one of five pantherine cats native to India. Others include – Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, snow leopard and clouded leopard.
- The Asiatic Lion, which is listed as ‘Endangered‘ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
- It is one of the 21 critically endangered species identified by the MoEFCC for taking up recovery programmes.
- Epidemics, natural disasters and other anthropogenic factors pose threats to the single population. For example, Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) infection (in 2018) killed 36 lions in Gir National Park.
Relocating Asiatic Lions –
- Background –
- Since 1995, when the Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary (now a National Park in the state of Madhya Pradesh) was identified as an alternative location for lion relocation, this issue has been frequently discussed.
- The reason for looking for a new home for the species is that the population in Gir has low genetic diversity, making it vulnerable to threats of spread from epidemics.
- However, the Gujarat State Government refused to allow the reintroduction of Asiatic lions and in response to this a writ petition had been filed in the Supreme Court of India (SC) in 1995.
- The SC gave a decision in 2013 allowing the reintroduction of lions to Kuno-Palpur, overruling the Gujarat Government’s objections.
- Relocation sites –
- Six new sites apart from the Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary have been identified under Project Lion (announced in 2020), on the lines of Project Tiger (1973) and Project Elephant (1992).
- The Project Lion (launched by the MoEFCC) has been launched for the conservation of the Asiatic Lion, whose last remaining wild population is in Gujarat’s Asiatic Lion Landscape.
- The six new sites identified for possible lion relocation in the future include —
- Madhav National Park, Madhya Pradesh
- Sitamata Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan
- Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan
- Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh
- Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan
- Jessore-BalaramAmbaji WLS and adjoining landscape, Gujarat