Thursday, October 30, 2014

Akhilesh battles leonine challenge.

Lucknow: If Vishnu and Lakshmi pull through this crisis, it would be because some men had proposed — and determined — that they should live.

For those who believe man is the master of this universe, Vishnu and Lakshmi are no gods but a lion and lioness taken ill at a breeding centre in Uttar Pradesh. Nobody, not even veterinary experts, can tell what the two are suffering from.

Both have symptoms of paralysis, but it’s not only their distressed roar that is ringing in chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s ears. It’s the barbed words of another man that has hit him hard too.

The Asiatic lions — under treatment for over a month now — are of the same breed as six lions that the Gujarat government, then headed by Narendra Modi, had gifted to Uttar Pradesh in 2012.

Earlier this year, Modi had taken a dig at Akhilesh for caging the lions when they should have been roaming at a safari park coming up in the Samajwadi leader’s home district Etawah. The park is not ready yet, so the two lions had been kept in Kanpur zoo for over a year before being moved to the breeding centre with the six others, where they fell ill.

The state government has now sought help from London’s Zoo Society and the Born Free Foundation, UK, named after the 1966 film Born Free, where a lioness, Elsa, is reintroduced to the wild.

Sources said Modi’s comments had made Akhilesh wild too. “Your chief minister asked for lions from me,” Modi had told a rally in Bareilly ahead of the summer national elections. “We gave his government lions. We had hoped his officials would demonstrate some boldness in running the government after seeing the lions. But they could not handle the Gujarat lions. The lions had to be caged.”

That wasn’t all. India’s future Prime Minister then went on to invite Akhilesh’s father, Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, to visit Gir “to see how lions roam freely”.

That was in April, when the two lions — brought from Hyderabad Zoo, which had got them from Gir forest in Gujarat — were still in the Kanpur zoo. Akhilesh had hit back, saying the comment was uncalled for as the lions had been gifted as a “political courtesy”.

Then, in September, the lions fell ill.

Official sources said the challenge for the state government now was not only to save the two but also its image. They said Akhilesh, who last week visited the safari park — being built on the lines of Britain’s Longleat Safari and Adventure Park — instructed wildlife officials to take help from international experts.

“We have interacted with experts from the Born Free Foundation and sent the medical reports of the lions. We are in touch with the Zoo Society too. It is a big challenge to save the two and we have gone all out,” Rupak De, chief wildlife warden, Uttar Pradesh, told The Telegraph today.

“The two cannot move, their appetite is decreasing. What they are actually suffering from is not known. The symptoms are that of paralysis and viral infection. We have consulted all the leading vets in the country, including those from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Bareilly. As a last resort, we have approached the Born Free Foundation.”

Etawah Lion Safari director K.K. Singh said the two, “now inmates of a captivity centre at Etawah, have been segregated”.

Some veterinary experts said inbreeding within fragmented lion populations could be to blame for the illness.

- The Telegraph, Calcutta

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