The lion’s second coming

Resting in Gir: Lions in a pride adapt to newer pastures with ease. Photo: N. Shiva Kumar  

The large carnivores of India seem to be caught in controversies all the time. Not a single day passes without news in the print or electronic media about leopards being bludgeoned to death, tigers being poached for body parts or snow leopards being hunted for their precious pelt. Two other issues that hit the headlines recently were the shifting of lions ( Panthera Leo Persica) from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh and of cheetahs into the wild.

“It’s like a life insurance policy; we do not take an insurance policy expecting to die but we do so to protect against unexpected events. Similarly, a second home will provide protection against extinction for the free-ranging Asiatic lions, which is an integral part of India’s unique and diverse natural heritage,” says Dr. Ravi Chellam, a senior wildlife ecologist who has studied the Asiatic lion from close range for many years in the Gir forest — the last remaining home of the big cat.

It has been nearly six months since the Supreme Court passed a verdict on April 15 to guarantee a safe and sound second home for the beleaguered Asiatic lion; however, not much appears to have happened on the ground. The idea is to translocate a selected pride of lions to ensure the long-time survival of the endangered species. To expedite this long-drawn project, that that has been lingering for decades and have seen huge expenditure, to create a second habitation in Madhya Pradesh, the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment (MoEF) has constituted a 12-member committee.

Chaired by MoEF’s Additional Director General (ADG), Wildlife, the committee will decide the final course of action to shift lions from Gir Forest National Park to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary spread over 1,269 sq km. This team consists of wildlife experts who will not only look into the systematic arrangements for transporting the lions, but will also study threat perceptions to these big cats in their new home. The committee members include Chief Wildlife Wardens (CWW) of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, Member Secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Wildlife Institute of India (WII), and other flora and fauna experts like Dr. A.J.T. Johnsingh, Y.B. Jhala, Dr. Ravi Chellam, P.R. Sinha and N.K. Ranjeet Singh. This committee can also co-opt more specialists for the proceedings so that any loopholes in the plans can be plugged in the nascent stage.

One of the major doubts raised by many independent wildlife experts and activists is the availability of prey base, i.e. antelopes and deer in the new location. It has been estimated that the energy or prey requirements of a carnivore can be determined using body weight; consequently a female lion kills about 40 to 45 animals per year, consuming 2,000 kg of meat which is equivalent to 3,000 kg of live prey for mere maintenance. When raising two to three cubs, the mother lion would need 60 to 75 prey animals per year. Assuming that 50 wild animals can support one lion for one year, on average, then five lions (three females and two males) will require a total of 250 wild animals per year.

In this context, the favourite food of lions includes chital (spotted deer), sambhar, nilgai (blue bull), chinkara, wild boar and even langur that are available in ample numbers in the new location, according to field studies conducted over the years. One wildlife expert has recommended that the three female and two male lions should be initially introduced into Kuno only after ensuring that the prey base is greater than required.

While the subject of Asiatic lions’ translocation is hanging fire, a seven-day photo exhibition titled ‘Landscape of the Lions’ is being organised in the Capital’s India International Centre by ace lensman Ashok Dilwali.

The exhibition will coincide with the Wildlife Week celebrations in the first week of October and the show will culminate in a pictorial-talk titled ‘Present and the Past Homeland’ by Sharad Khanna and Faiyaz A. Khudsar, both wildlife enthusiasts, followed by a public debate on October 5.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 8:10:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/the-lions-second-coming/article5176419.ece

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