Says in the case of an epidemic, it is risky to keep the felines in one place

Despite the repeated refusals by the Gujarat government, Union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh on Thursday re-opened the controversy over providing a “second home” for the Asiatic lions.

Mr. Ramesh, who visited the Gir forest, the only abode of the Asiatic lions in the Saurashtra region, told journalists that he was in favour of a “second home” for the threatened species in Madhya Pradesh.

He said he was aware that the Asiatic lions were a proud possession of Gujarat and the State was not willing to share it with any other State, but it was “too risky” to keep them all in one place. According to Mr. Ramesh, they were already a threatened species and in case of any outbreak of an epidemic, the entire population could be wiped out.

Mr. Ramesh said he had written several letters to the State government in this regard and hoped that it would realise the danger of keeping the entire pride together and accept the proposal to send a few to Madhya Pradesh.

The Union Minister was thrilled to see a pride of 14 lions and cubs together and discussed with the forest officials and local villagers about problems in the Gir forest, the threat due to poaching and other issues.

A proposal to spare at least five lions for the proposed second sanctuary was made to Gujarat several years back and the issue was also taken to the level of the Supreme Court but the State government had refused to accept the suggestion stating that it was taking all necessary steps to protect the species in its only abode, including checking the threat of poaching.

The government had also pointed out that from a mere 180 animals, the number of Asiatic lions had increased in the last three decades to 411 as per the latest census which was a proof of the State government's positive steps to protect the lions.