Monday, March 28, 2016

Gujarat offers 'sick' lions for Bhopal zoo, Madhya Pradesh government red-faced

| TNN | BHOPAL: Madhya Pradesh government's enthusiasm over Gujarat government's offer to give lions for its safari at Van Vihar, Bhopal, fizzled out when it realised that the gift was only a pair of sick lions. This has left Madhya Pradesh officials red-faced. The state has not only refused to accept the lions, but have also appraised National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) about its twinge. Sakarbaug Zoo of Junagadh (Gujarat) which breeds and supplies Asiatic lions to others zoos had selected weaker ones from the pride for MP, said sources in the forest department.

Lions and lionesses shifted from the same zoo had failed to survive at Uttar Pradesh's Etawah Lion Safari - a dream project of Mulayam Singh Yadav envisioned in 2005. And their deaths had left UP officials with nothing but the illnesses to talk about. Shivraj Singh Chouhan's lion safari would meet a similar fate if such lions are brought here, officials said.

Top authorities dealing with the matter shied away from commenting on the issue looking at healing the 'relationship' between Chouhan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who as chief minister of Gujarat had steadfastly refused to part with the majestic lions for MP's Kuno-Palpur sanctuary till he lost the battle in Supreme court in 2013.

"The process is on," says Ravi Srivastava, MP's chief wildlife warden refusing to discuss anything further.

MP's hopes of getting Gir lions on its land had almost diminished after Modi became Prime Minister.

But a few months ago state forest department received a fresh ray of hope in the form of a communication from the Sakarbaug Zoo of Junagadh (Gujarat) informing that they are ready to part way with a pair of this magnificent species for 'Lion Safari' at Van Vihar in Bhopal.

Accordingly a team of wildlife experts visited Gujarat for inspection of a lion and a lioness that were selected for the proposed safari. Team was very unhappy with lions selected and their health, said sources.

"Any layman would have said that those lions were unfit for translocation. It could have been a booby trap. If they die after being shifted to MP, Gujarat will use the deaths to strengthen their stand on stalling shifting of Gir lions," said a senior officer wishing anonymity.

Gujarat government had been opposing the move of translocation Gir lions citing that MP has failed to protect its tigers.

Sakarbaug Zoo, director S J Pandit finds nothing wrong in the lions they selected for Bhopal lion safari. "All our lions are healthy and absolutely fit for translocation," he told TOI.

Battle for Asiatic Lion

Bhopal: Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica), also known as the Indian lion, is a lion sub-species that exists as a single isolated population in Gir region of Gujarat State. It is listed as Endangered by IUCN based on the small population size.

Move to relocate big cats to Kuno, first mooted in 2000, had been hanging fire because Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat had steadfastly refused to part with the majestic lions.

The idea behind the Kuno-Palpur project was to raise a buffer population of wild lions as an insurance against epidemics or natural disasters wiping out the Gir lions.

In August 2014, the Gujarat government's curative petition against the shifting of Gir lions too was dismissed by the Supreme Court.

MP and Gujarat had sent recommendations to the Central zoo authority (CZA) for necessary clearances to shift the lions to Bhopal. Proposal was cleared in early 2015.

MP forest department has identified 20 hectares of land for lion safari in Van Vihar, where visitors can see these big cats from jeeps soon. Van Vihar is spread over 445 hectares.

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