Vet in­sti­tute, am­bu­lances mooted in ₹98 crore lion con­ser­va­tion plan

Cen­tre and Gu­jarat govt. an­nounce project that in­cludes a wildlife crime cell

The Hindu - - NATION - Ja­cob Koshy

Three months af­ter at least 20 lions in Gu­jarat suc­cumbed to a virus, the Cen­tre and the Gu­jarat gov­ern­ment have an­nounced a ₹97.85 crore Asi­atic Lion Con­ser­va­tion Project at a press con­fer­ence here on Fri­day.

A key out­come of the project is to have a ded­i­cated vet­eri­nary in­sti­tute, “lion am­bu­lances”, and back-up stocks of vac­cines that may be re­quired. There are close to 600 lions in Gu­jarat, ac­cord­ing to State for­est of­fi­cials at the meet­ing. How­ever, there has been no move yet to translo­cate lions to a lo­ca­tion out­side Gu­jarat.

“There is a com­mit­tee of ex­perts from both States ex­am­in­ing the suit­abil­ity of Mad­hya Pradesh as a po­ten­tial lion re­serve. Sec­ondly, we also have to com­ply with cer­tain guide­lines of the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (on se­lect­ing suit­able habi­tat, translo­ca­tion),” said Ra­jiv Ku­mar Gupta, Ad­di­tional Chief Sec­re­tary, Gu­jarat.

No progress

The Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary in Mad­hya Pradesh was iden­ti­fied to be the most suit­able for rein­tro­duc­ing the species, ac­cord­ing to a Supreme Court-ap­pointed tech­ni­cal ex­pert com­mit­tee, but there has been no progress on the pro­posal.

The SC in April 2013 had or­dered the translo­ca­tion of some lions from Gu­jarat to Mad­hya Pradesh within six months, but this hasn’t hap­pened. This was or­dered af­ter sev­eral rec­om­men­da­tions by ex­pert groups, in­clud­ing the Wildlife In­sti­tute of In­dia. It em­pha­sised that the long-term sur­vival of the lion as a species was best served if they could be present out­side Gu­jarat, too, so that they are pro­tected against, say, a for­est fire, a dis­ease, or calami­ties.

While the lion deaths of last year brought these ques­tions to the fore, they also pointed to the stark re­al­ity of lion num­bers ris­ing to an ex­tent that sev­eral of them were now found out­side pro­tected ar­eas and in­volved in hu­man-an­i­mal con­flict as well as in in­creas­ing con­tact with do­mes­tic an­i­mals as well as feral dogs, from where they could have con­tracted the virus.

“We are not closed to the idea and will do any­thing re­quired for the pro­tec­tion of this species,” said En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Harsh Vard­han.

The Gu­jarat gov­ern­ment, on its part, has en­vis­aged a ‘Greater Gir’ that in­cludes, other than the ex­ist­ing Gir Na­tional Park, sanc­tu­ar­ies in Girnar, Pa­nia and Mi­tiyala.

Key as­pects of the con­ser­va­tion project in­clude un­der­tak­ing “habi­tat im­prove­ment” mea­sures, mak­ing more sources of wa­ter avail­able, cre­at­ing a wildlife crime cell, and a task force for the Greater Gir re­gion.

It would also in­volve hav­ing in place a GPS-based track­ing sys­tem, which would look at sur­veil­lance track­ing, an­i­mal and ve­hi­cle track­ing. There would also be an au­to­mated sen­sor grid that would have mag­netic sen­sors, move­ment sen­sors and in­fra-red heat sen­sors.

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