Gir National Park has reached its saturation point and hence government should establish a second lion habitat in Kuno sanctuary

Tucked away in a little corner in Gujarat is the Gir National Park, which is home to the critically endangered Asiatic Lion (Panthera Leo Persica).

In the early 1900s, trophy hunting by the British colonist and the Indian Royalty had decimated their population, but thanks to the timely conservation efforts of “The Nawab of Junagadh,” the lions escaped extinction by a whisker. But now the greater danger looms, that of inbreeding and low genetic variability which could make them susceptible to disease owing to the weakening of their immune system. Besides, their sperm has deformed leading to infertility.

The government should educate people on the importance of lions in the Gir ecosystem. Their decimation would cause ecological imbalance and, in turn, result in an increase in the numbers of prey species (sambar, chital, nilgai) and increase the competition for grasslands which are shared by the domestic livestock.

The locals who live in direct contact with the lions must be taught how to avoid conflict and how to protect the lions from poachers who hunt and sell the body parts of the lions in various Chinese and other herbal remedies markets across the world.

The WII (Wildlife Institute of India) has recommended that due to the increase in the population and the limited area of the Gir National Park, a second population of lions must be established at the Palpur Kuno Wildlife sanctuary. The capacity of the park in relation to the lion area ratio has reached the bursting point and fighting among the lions has forced the weaker ones to move out of the GPA (Gir Protected Area).

Lack of space over food is the reason why the lions are spreading out in search of new habitats.

As more and more forests and grasslands are being lost to agriculture, the home ranges of the lions are shrinking, forcing them to head for new habitats as if to reclaim the 2,560 sq km they inhabited until 1956. The GPA is a little over half the size at 1,421 sq km.

There are three or four prides of lions outside the park. A pride of 13 lions lives in the Girnar hills, 20 roam in the coastal forest of Dur, there are 16 in the Hipouadli-Savarkundla region and about seven in other places.

Instead of allowing the lions to spread naturally and eventually cause panic and mayhem whereever they go, the government should act now and go ahead with the plans to establish a second population about 100 km away in Kuno, a former lion habitat.

Law enforcement organisations must restrict the number of people entering the park borders since they are setting up illegal snares to catch small animals, but sometimes the lions manage to get one of their paws entangled in a wire snare which later leads to the animal losing their limb; the result a slow, painful death.

Hollow promises

Till date, government aid has come only in the form of empty promises and a meagre Rs. 12 crore, which has been spent to purchase vehicles, night vision glasses and other fancy gadgets. The money has proved to be inadequate to close the 9,000 wells which litter the park. Each year, these wells prove to be a death trap for at least four to five lions.

The fact remains that the plight of the Asiatic Lion has not created the same hullabaloo vis-à-vis the threat to the tiger.

More In: Open Page | Opinion