AHMEDABAD: The Nawabs of Junagadh were trying desperately to save lions that were already dwindling in number. Had it been not been a diktat from the Viceroy of India - George Curzon, it would have been difficult for the local rulers to ward off requests from other royals to hunt big cats.
In 1900, Nawab Rasulkhanji of Junagadh invited the viceroy for lion hunting, a minimal gesture of courtesy a state had to show to their British masters. However, the day Curzon received invitation; he was apprised of a letter published in a leading Bombay daily by a prominent citizen.
AM Mosse recorded the incident in his 'The Lion of the Gir' that was published in Journal of Bombay Natural History Society. He mentioned that the letter was published titled as 'Viceroy or Vandal' criticizing Curzon's acceptance of invite in wake of reducing lion population, which were estimated at just 12 then. This prompted Curzon to cancel his hunting excursion.
"In the event, Curzon did not go to the Gir, he returned from Junagadh and urged the Nawab to give these animals strict protection," writes Divyabhanusinh in his 'Junagadh State and its Lions: Conservation in Princely India'.
Though he was against hunting of big cats, Curzon's abstaining from shooting forced the Nawab to express his disappointment. On November 27, 1900, he wrote to the viceroy, "I cannot but observe here that I fully appreciated and admired your noble consideration in abandoning the lion shooting. Your Excellency's giving up the idea has greatly disappointed me... I propose however to approach your Excellency later on with the request to favour me with a shooting excursion in the Gir before your Excellency's departure from India."
However, Curzon hoped that his example of restraint would be followed. He wrote to the Burma Game Preservation Association in 1902 how he was "on the verge of contributing to their (lions) still further reduction ... but fortunately I found out my mistake in time, and was able to adopt a restraint which I hope that others will follow".
Many British officials did not follow him, but Curzon's advice was a great excuse for local rulers and British administration to turn down lion hunting requests from other princely states. But some those who were not allowed to hunt down lions later were Kumar Shri Vijayrajji of Kutch, Maharaja Jam Saheb Ranjitsinhji of Navanagar, Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner and the Raja of Poonch from J&K.