The Asiatic lion in Gir is set to move to a new home in Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. The sanctuary is a proven historical habitat of the magnificent creature.

India’s Asiatic lions have a new home. There are over 400 Asiatic lions in India, and Gujarat’s Gir Wildlife Sanctuary is their only home in the country. The Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, with a total area of 1,412 sq km, is located 65 km to the south east of Junagadh in Gujarat. The national park and wildlife sanctuary is considered to be one of the most important protected areas in Asia. In 1994, the population of lions in the sanctuary was limited to 284. It was due to the efforts of the State wildlife authorities and conservationists that the 2010 census showed the population of the lions to be 411.

Roadblock

While the survival of the Asiatic lion seems to be momentarily secure, it is important to ensure that the survival of the species is certain. As protected a sanctuary as Gir may be, a single epidemic or natural calamity could affect the entire population of the Asiatic lions in Gir, wiping out the species and causing their extinction. As a result, the Wildlife Institute of India thought it necessary to transport and shift a pride or more to the closeby Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. This move will not only ensure the survival of the Asiatic lion, but also increase the prey density or availability of prey in Gir for the remaining prides.

It was in 1994 that the Wildlife Institute of India, located in Dehradun, carried out a survey (Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project) on the re-introduction of Asiatic lions and recommended Kuno Sanctuary as an alternative home for the Asiatic lion. At one point, the big cats used to roam the vast expanses of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh before human settlements encroached their natural territories.

However, the project recently met with a serious roadblock. The government of Gujarat refused to part with the Asiatic lions. Calling them the pride of Gujarat, the local government was adamant on restricting the population of the Asiatic lion only to Gir, giving conservationists great cause for concern. The Gujarat government maintained that the wildlife authorities in Madhya Pradesh would be unable to protect the lions as they had failed to protect their own tiger population in the recent past. However, the Supreme Court of India, the country’s highest judicial authority, ruled in favour of translocating the lions to Kuno so as to ensure their survival.

The translocation of the Asiatic lion to Kuno has involved several important steps to ensure that the new additions would have space to roam as well as large numbers of prey. Twenty-four villages were relocated at Kuno to make room for the big cats. This step will ensure that the animal-human conflict is kept to a minimum.

Nevertheless, the translocation of the Asiatic lion to Kuno will be a test case for conservation.

Efforts will also have to be taken to ensure that the endangered species does not fall prey to poaching and locals will need to be educated and involved in the conservation process.

To meet with success, the project will need male lions to be moved from Gir to Kuno every three to five years for the next 30 years.

Period of study spanning 20 years: 1995 to 2015

Three phases:

a. pre-translocation phase (1995-2000),

b. translocation and population and population build-up (2000-2005)

c. follow up and consolidation (2006-2015).

Fact file

The Asiatic Lion is the seventh sub-species of lions found on this planet. It is listed as an endangered species

The lion was once widely distributed through Persia to India

The Nawab of Junagadh was among the first to extend protection to the Asiatic lion, when their population had fallen to a dozen at the start of the 20 century

The Asiatic lion is smaller in size in comparison to the African lion