Saturday, October 11, 2008

MP wants lion's share of Gujarat's pride

Tuesday,7 October 2008 15:47 hrs IST

New Delhi: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan Tuesday demanded the Centre to act on its plan to shift a part of the lions' population from the Gir forests to his state, a move which is being fiercely opposed by the parent state which says the animal is its pride and gives a distinctive edge to its tourism.

His demand may rekindle the controversy over the translocation of Asiatic lions from Gujarat.

''We have made all the preparations for receiving the guests, but, they seem nowhere to be coming. The Centre should do something,'' Mr Chauhan said interacting with UNI journalists at the news agency's headquarters here.

Gir Forests in Gujarat are the only place in the world where the Asiatic lion is presently found. Experts have been saying the forests were overpopulated with the lions, so it would be in the interest of the animals' survival, if they were distributed to another habitat.

A Centrally-sponsored Rs 640 crore project had been proposed in 1996 to translocate the lions over two decades to the 344 sq km Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in MP's Sheopur district. But, the Gujarat government's resistance to share its proud possession have thwarted these plans so far.

The MP Chief Minister said it has pained him to see that all efforts and money on making the sanctuary suitablle for the Gir lions was going waste.

Asked whether he was in talks with the Gujarat government over the issue, Mr Chauhan said he would address his demand to the Centre instead, as it was a central project.

The April 2005 census recorded the lion-count in Gir at 359, an increase of 32 compared to 2001.

Despite strong protection machinery being in place in the Gir Forest, poaching of the animals had been taking place. The lions had also been poisoned for attacking livestock. Other threats haunting the animals were fires, floods, epidemics and natural disasters.

But, the Gujarat government had been asserting that Gir forests were quite safe for the lions and rather may not find the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary suitable, he underlined.

He said the sanctuary in his state was absolutely fit and ready to sustain the Asiatic lions.

The Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1965 in an area of 1412 km², located about 65 km to the south-east of Junagadh city of Junagadh district in the kathiawar peninsula of Gujarat.

The then Nawab of the princely Junagadh state had declared the forest area of Gir and its lions as "protected" in the early 1900s, an initiative that assisted in the conservation of the lions whose population had gone down to only 15 due to trophy hunting.

Sometime back, Uttar Pradesh had also made a move to get some big cats from the Gir Forests, but in vain.

Mulayam Singh Yadav, the erstwhile Chief Minister of the state, had envisaged development of a lion safari on a huge tract of land in the forest area of his home district Etawah.

Owning to the change of guard last year, the project, however, was almost put in the cold storage.

One of the difficulties was getting lions from the Gir forests, officials of the state say.


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