The apex court had recently stayed the Rs 300 crore cheetah reintroduction project and sought to know if saving cheetah or lion was its priority.
The Supreme Court was hearing a petition filed in 2006 by the Bio-diversity Conservation Trust of India, Delhi seeking translocation of lion to Kuno-Palpur. The 2010 census showed presence of 411 lions in the Gir National Park and its surroundings.
An officer from the forest department said the state has plans to stall the move by the Madhya Pradesh government to use the lions for tourism.
Kuno-Palpur was considered after there was a sharp decline of the lion population in 1988. The Wildlife Institute of India found that the lion population in Gir was totally insecure because it had risen from a very small base, making the population genetically homogenous. Secondly, when a small population is restricted to a single site, an epidemic could prove catastrophic and wipe out the entire population.
Thus to re-establish a second home for these lions, the Wildlife Institute of India in 1993 undertook a survey to identify the potential second home of the Asiatic Lion. Accordingly, the Kuno-Palpur project period was identified to a span of 20 years i.e. 1995 to 2015.
"While the entire project was being planned, there was no mention of tourism aspect. If the apex court judgment goes against the state and the lions have to be shifted, the government can move a pray that tourism related to lions should only be the USP of the Gujarat. Madhya Pradesh should be restricted from using the lions for tourism," said a senior forest department official.