Gujarat opposes plan for a second home for Asiatic lions at Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.A proposed second home for Asiatic lions has pitted the BJP-led state governments of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh against each other. Gujarat, whose Gir sanctuary is the only abode for Asiatic lions, is upset with the plan to shift some of the big cats to the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary near Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, as decided in the late 1990s by the Union government on the advice of the Wildlife Institute of India.
The issue came up for hearing in Supreme Court on May 1 on a petition by Biodiversity Conservation Trust, a wildlife NGO. The Madhya Pradesh government bluntly told the court that Gujarat's allegations that Madhya Pradesh forest officials were incapable of handling the lions and that there was poaching in the area and not enough prey base for the lions were baseless. The debate further escalated when the Madhya Pradesh state tourism department posted on its website that "Kuno has been selected as an alternative home for the endangered Asiatic lion, which is now confined only to the Gir National Park and Sanctuary of Gujarat".
Gujarat claims it has done enough to protect the lions and that a second home for them is unnecessary. Not only has the number of Gir lions gone up to 411, the state government has also added 400 sq km in grasslands and forests to the 1,400-sq-km sanctuary as part of its concept of Greater Gir. Gujarat forest officials also say the poachers who operate in Gir come from Katni in Madhya Pradesh, not very far from Kuno-Palpur, which means the proposed second home is no safer for the lions. "There is absolutely no need for shifting the lions out of Gujarat. The endangered species is more secure here than anywhere else," says Pradeep Khanna, Gujarat's principal chief conservator of forests. Madhya Pradesh Forest Minister Sartaj Singh counters: "It is wrong to say lions won't be safe in Kuno-Palpur when Madhya Pradesh has done a good job of managing other national parks in the state which have tigers. Gujarat should understand that it is for the future benefit of the species that a second home is necessary." Another Gujarat forest official reminds that the Wildlife Institute of India's recommendation to shift lions to Kuno-Palpur was itself a political decision as it was dominated at that time by officials from Madhya Pradesh. He adds that the second home strategy is flawed as Kuno-Palpur is just 344 sq km in area and the recommendation is for shifting only six lions.
The Madhya Pradesh government has added another 700 sq km to Kuno-Palpur so that more lions can be accommodated when the relocation begins. But with Gujarat in an election year and 'pride' literally at stake, the relocation plan may have to wait.