|Saturday , June 27 , 2015
- Cubs on way, Akhilesh hopes to answer Modi
|Our Special Correspondent|
"We are happy that two of the lionesses are pregnant and the news is pregnant with new possibilities," said Rupak De, the state's chief conservator of forests, unable to resist the pun as he spoke of the park with four lions at present.
The word about the likely new arrivals comes after last November's death of two of six lions gifted by Gujarat in 2013 to the heartland state - which had asked for 10 - amid teething problems in rearing the animals.
"The chief minister (Akhilesh) asked us for lions... but he cannot handle the lions of Gujarat," Modi had said during the campaign for last year's Lok Sabha polls.
Akhilesh had hit back by declaring he would "keep the Gujarati lions in Etawah and not let them out", suggesting he knew how to "tame" Modi. The BJP, though, could not be "tamed" as it rode the Modi blitz to win 71 of the state's 80 seats.
Cut to June 2015 and the chief minister, who has allocated Rs 100 crore for the project with the avowed aim of promoting tourism, may have reason to smile.
Project director K.K. Singh said the two lionesses, Girishma and Heera, were due in the third week of July. "The news has spread joy among the workers. The pregnancy happened in the course of natural cohabitation between the Asiatic lions, not through artificial insemination," Singh said.
With last year's deaths still fresh in their minds, park officials aren't taking any chances. "Doctors are monitoring their health regularly," said Singh, adding a team from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Bareilly, around 200km away, had camped in Etawah to keep a watch on the lionesses' health.
If the cubs come along well, they will do more than just bolster the safari project, which was conceived by Akhilesh's father Mulayam Singh Yadav as chief minister in 1995 but remained on paper for almost two decades.
More lions at the 350-hectare park will help meet long-standing demands that Asiatic lions should be shifted outside Gir - the Gujarat pocket that has been for years the only haven for the dwindling species - to ensure the entire pride isn't wiped out in an epidemic.
India's first count of such lions in 1975 put the number at only 177. Although their population has now increased from around 400 in 2010 to over 500 at present, a lot more needs to be done to keep the lions safe, experts said. Five Asiatic lions have died in rain-triggered floods in Gujarat in the past two days, PTI reported.