Friday, September 13, 2013

Modi, Chouhan continue sparring over translocation of lions.

Asiatic lions are listed as endangered by the IUCN due to their small population.
The frayed tempers between the Gujarat and the Madhya Pradesh government along with the judicial activism on the issue of the translocation of the Asiatic lion from its last abode in the Gir forests to the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in MP may not cool down anytime soon.
The hard-hitting Supreme Court verdict on April 15 forced the Gujarat government to agree to the translocation in what had become a fight for state pride and resulted in much jarring between the two BJP-ruled states.

In retaliation, Gujarat government filed a review petition in May. Although the verdict on the petition was still pending a 12 member committee was formed by the ministry of forest and environment for the translocation of lions. The panel, which met in Delhi on July 29 for a maiden meeting, comprised pro-shifting experts Ravi Chellam and Y V Jhala who are the brains behind the translocation plan to decide on the number of lions to be shifted.
Gujarat government had put forth its arguments against the move but environmentalists slammed it by saying that the lions were being caught in a political tussle between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

Significantly, the battle over the translocation had taken an ugly turn. Modi had refused to entertain the request of his MP counterpart Chouhan government to agree to the translocation. Many government officials and local activists in Gujarat questioned that is conserving the lion really MP's aim or does it basically want to enhance its tourism?
Dineshgiri Goswami, green activist from Kodinar based Prakruti Nature Club, says "I do not think anybody is thinking about the lion but the battle is becoming more political. Forest officers appearing in court do not care for the lions." Goswami threatened self-immolation if lions are shifted.

As a much needed boost to the Gujarat government, a Mumbai based NGO, Empower Foundation, presented a study on lion translocation. They stated that lions should not be translocated and be allowed to migrate naturally. The study also found that the Gujarat government has not powerfully positioned the fact that the lion habitat in Gujarat goes much beyond Gir.
Over a period of time lions have migrated naturally hundreds of kilometers away to places like Amreli, Savarkundla, Liliya Porbandar, Paniya, Mitiyala, Barda, Una, Chhara, Sutrapada, Babariya, Kodinar, Visavadar, Hipavadli, Jamvada, Jasadhar, Girnar, Bhavnagar and Palitana.
"The 1,412 sq km abode of Asiatic lions has now spread across 10,500 sq km, thus mitigating concentration risk in one area," explained Jalpesh Mehta, founder chairman, Empower Foundation. Thus, the spread of an epidemic which was the primary argument of wildlife activists and biologists seeking translocation does not hold true, according to him.

One would not, however, undermine Gujarat's valid concerns about the security of the lions in Madhya Pradesh. Asiatic lions are listed as endangered by the IUCN due to their small population. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, C.N.Pandey says, "Success of lion conservation in Gujarat may largely be attributed to the tolerant, friendly and supportive local people. This is missing at Kuno Palpur."

Another major concern is that Madhya Pradesh is major poaching arena with a strong gun culture. According to several cases reported in the past the 'tiger state' lost its moniker when 453 tigers out of 710 (63% loss) were killed in last decade alone. The state as per the 2011 census has only 257 tigers left.
The loss of tiger in Madhya Pradesh was 50 per cent of the total loss of the tigers across the world. Palpur Kuno had 25 tigers earlier but reduced to a shameful figure of two in the present time. Sheopur district also has 4800 fire arm licenses for a population of six lakh. As these are licensed guns, one cannot assess the illegal fire arms present in the area.

Risks cannot be ruled out, but these risks must be taken considering the larger benefits for the species, feels Dr Rahul Kaul, Chief Ecologist, Wildlife Trust of India. He observes: "Long-term viability of lions or any other wildlife will benefit greatly if there are multiple populations. Restricting the animals to a single population, however big, can make them extremely vulnerable to stochastic extinctions."   

International Fund for Animal Welfare - Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI) has undertaken relocation of animals in the northeast India. "Working with the Assam Forest Department and Bodoland Territorial Council authorities, we have aided in reintroduction of rhinos in Manas after its entire population was wiped out during the civil unrest of 80s and 90s. With advancement of science and understanding, proper planning and effective implementation, the degree of success has increased and can be increased further. Anyway, in cases like these, the possibility of success must matter more than the fear of failure," says Kaul.

Clearly in this battle MP has an upper hand but with the endangered animals at stake the issues may have become more political than ecological. And while one smile and the other sulks a species survival is at risk.
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