Gujarat government has identified an area near Wankaner in Rajkot district for relocation of lions from Gir National Park, even as it is fighting a battle in Supreme Court against Centre’s proposal of their trans-location to Madhya Pradesh.

The area near Wankaner is the second area identified by the state government after Bardo Dungar in the Porbandar district for the lion gene pool project, to guard against the threat of a possibility of an epidemic which can wipe out the entire population of lions in Gir.

Gir is the last abode of Asiatic lions where in the census held in 2005 their number was 359. The Gujarat forest department would conduct fresh census later this month.

“We have identified vast area of land near Wankaner for conservation of lions,” state forest minister Mangubhai Patel told the state Assembly recently.

The state government said they have identified this land area for long-term conservation of lions and conducted afforestation there. They have also planned to make drinking water available in the area and construct check dams, the minister informed the House.

“Land identified in Wankaner will be used for gene pool project to maintain gene diversity of lions,” Chief wild life conservator Pradeep Khanna told PTI.

However, the officials of the state forest department said long-term plan is to relocate some lions in the area which has been prepared as an exclusive zone for them.

A recently released report of task force for lion conservation said, lion population has been brought back from the brink of extinction after almost a century of conservation effort.

“The issues of genetic bottlenecking, genetic depression and catastrophic extinction have been discussed in general terms for a long time among the conservationists from the point of view of single populations of any endangered species,” it said.

A few studies have shown that the present lion population in Gir does not suffer from any inbreeding related genetic depression. A population viability health analysis carried out some time ago showed that the probability of catastrophic extinction was extremely low, the report said.

This does not brook complacency on the conservation front. On the contrary the government has stepped up its vigilance regarding conservation of the germ-plasm, the report said.

The area identified in Wankaner will be used as a part of this project in the initial state and some lions will be relocated as a part of project, officials said.

The state government is fighting a legal battle in the Supreme Court against translocation of Gir lions in Kuno-Palpur wildlife sanctuary of Madhya Pradesh.