What was to belong to the king of the jungle is now being handed over on a platter to the Royal Bengal Tiger. The union federal conservation funding for lion conservation in India is now being transferred to tiger conservation programs across the country.
The Asiatic Lion subspecies also called as Panther Leo Persica is today found only in the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat. Though once the majestic species roamed Central Asia, Middle East, and even Eastern Europe, today their numbers have been restricted to just about 411 within a restricted area of the Gir Forest National Park.
Due to efforts of the Gujarat state government, there has been a steady rise in the numbers of Asiatic lions at Gir Forest National Park over the past few years. In fact tourism too has increased by 55% at the National Park in the last year, thanks to good promotional activities by the state government.
In contrast the number of tigers across National Parks in India have decreased drastically with the count being just 1411. Even the worldwide count of tigers has reduced to just 3200 thanks to poaching, deforestation an wildlife habitat loss.
The plunging global tiger population was brought more in focus with the Chinese celebrating The Year of the Tiger last year. As such India too may be under international pressure to save its tigers. A number of tiger summits were held last year at an international level and this may have prompted the central government to be more partial towards tiger conservation over lion conservation programmes.
"We are unable to understand why the central government is being so tightfisted with lions when the tigers are being allocated huge amounts regularly. Though the state government has enough allocated funds for now under the Lion Conservation Society of India, several mega projects are on hold," a senior Gir forest official said.
A member of the Union Forest and Environment Ministry said, "The lions are safe in Gujarat and multiplying. We were impressed by the way Gujarat dealt with the poaching problem. The forest dwellers in Gir are tolerant towards the big cat, while the tiger is being killed in other states. That is a burning problem,"
However the lions too have installed fear in the villagers staying close to the periphery of the National Park. The lions often roam close to the villages and kill their livestock. But thanks to the conservation efforts at least poaching and poisoning of the big cats have lessened considerably.
A year ago, there were suggestions to transfer some lions to the National Parks in Madhya Pradesh who in exchange would transfer their tigers to Gir forest in Gujarat. According to wildlife conservationist such a move is necessary as it would lessen the threat of death due to in breeding and diseases among the species. Also since the whole Asiatic lion species, who are listed as endangered by the ICUN Red List are concentrated in one place only, any misfortune of a forest fire or viral disease may wipe out the species in one go.
The Gujarat government had however refused to part with any of their lions, who are considered the Pride of Gujarat.