Madhya Pradesh sanctuary to get Asiatic lions from Hyderabad

June 25th, 2008 - 9:59 am ICT by IANS  

By Sanjay Sharma
Bhopal, June 25 (IANS) A sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh that has been identified as an alternative habitat for the endangered Asiatic lion is to soon to get the first of the big cats from a Hyderabad zoo after Gujarat refused to part with the animals. “We have already got the nod from Hyderabad from where we would soon be getting zoo-bred lions,” Madhya Pradesh Chief Conservator of Forests P.B. Gangopadhyay told IANS.

Talks are also in progress with the Delhi Zoo authorities for relocating four lions from there to the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in Sehore district.

“The sanctuary would have a sizable number of big cats in the next 10-15 years. A special team of veterinary experts would be appointed to take care of the new inmates,” he added.

The Dehra Dun-based Wildlife Research Institute has for long felt that the 1,400-sq km Gir forest in Gujarat, with its population of over 325 big cats, was too small for housing such a large number of animals.

It also felt that concentrating the entire lion population in one place exposed it to the danger of being wiped out by disease or a natural calamity.

The institute then zeroed in on the 344-sq km Kuno-Palpur sanctuary and launched the Asiatic Lions Reproduction Project, a Rs.640-million ($15-million) centrally funded scheme, spread over a period of 20 years, to shift the lions.

It envisaged tranquilising the animals and transporting them by air from Gir to Kuno-Palpur, where they were to be housed in a pre-release centre near Palpur for acclimatization.

Gujarat, however, flatly refused to part with its prized lions, saying that any new site should be a natural and not an artificially created one.

Gujarat’s forest officials also did not rule out a tiger-lion conflict in Kuno-Palpur since the two can never co-exist in the same place.

Gangopadhyay ruled out any such threat, saying: “The new habitat at Kuno-Palpur was chosen as the most apt second home for the Asiatic lion after scientific deliberation based on several parameters.”

The sanctuary is home to Bengal tigers, leopards, wolves and other species of wild animals.

Forest department sources said Kuno-Palpur, with its windswept grasslands punctuated with trees and low shrubs, was the perfect habitat for the lions which, unlike tigers, move around in prides - each comprising up to 14 animals - and prefer grasslands with low shrubs.

They pointed out that the abundant water supply, better grass cover to support the prey base and a minimal effect upon human settlements were the other factors that favoured Kuno-Palpur over other sanctuaries.

A Delhi-based NGO - Bio-diversity Conservation Trust - also filed a public suit in the Supreme Court urging it to direct the Gujarat government to cooperate with Madhya Pradesh in transferring the lions to Kuno-Palpur.

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