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Debate rages over proposal to make the lion India’s national animal.
privately indicated that the move to promote the Asiatic lion as the
national animal was prompted more by politics than by considerations of
either conservation or national pride. Photograph: Indranil
Conservationists oppose dethroning the tiger, which has held this status for 43 years
A debate is raging in India
over an emotive proposal to make the lion the country’s national
animal, instead of the tiger that has held this status for the past 43
The federal environment ministry recently discussed
the issue of dethroning the tiger, despite strong opposition from
Officials privately indicated that the move to
promote the Asiatic lion as the national animal was prompted more by
politics than by considerations of either conservation or national
According to official estimates the entire lion
population, estimated at about 411, is confined to prime minister
Narendra Modi’s western home state of Gujarat. In all likelihood they
were imported centuries ago, possibly from northern Persia, by kings and
bred for hunting.
Officials suggested that members of Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP) are anxious to please him by replacing the tiger with the lion,
which was adopted as India’s national emblem after the country became a
republic in 1950. It was replaced by the tiger in 1972 following a
fierce debate at a period when their existence was threatened, almost to
the point of extinction.
Tigers are spread across 17 of India’s 29 provinces.
“The tiger is India’s national glory the only country where this animal
can be seen in the wild,” said prominent conservationist Belinda Wright.
After the Taj Mahal, the tiger is the second biggest
attraction for foreign tourists visiting India. The country must hold on
to that glory, said Ms Wright.
In January, India’s federal environment ministry
revealed that the population of tigers had risen some 30 per cent from
1,706 in 2011 to 2,226 in 2014 through a series of strictly implemented
Having the tiger as the national animal had helped this endeavour considerably, conservationists said.
“While the tiger population is falling in the world, it is increasing in India,” environment minister Prakash Javdekar said.
India is home to some 60 per cent of the world’s
population of wild tigers and successive administrations have employed
elaborate programmes at state and federal levels to perpetuate their
numbers, which were seriously threatened by shrinking habitats and
Tiger parts are sold at a premium around the world,
especially in China. Their carcasses, including eyeballs, bladder, dung,
soles and even eyebrows, are mined for their supposed medical and
About 30 per cent of India’s tiger population live in
areas outside the 27 government-managed reserves, which are monitored
under the Project Tiger scheme launched in 1972 to preserve the animals’
Lions, on the other hand, are confined to just 258sq km of Gujarat’s Gir forests.
Attempts to shift them to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh
state to thwart genetic inbreeding were opposed by Mr Modi, then state
chief minister, on the grounds that they were identified with Gujarat
and should continue to reside there exclusively.