Is Gujarat losing the lead it had gained in wildlife conservation especially for Asiatic Lions over the last few decades? The repeated incidents of accidental deaths due to varied cases of man-animal conflict in the Gir and its surrounding areas are becoming a cause for serious concern for forest officials and nature conservationists now.
This, especially so when they are seeking to change the Supreme Court’s mind about translocation of lions from its only natural habitat in Gujarat to Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh. Several naturalists, severely opposed to the idea of moving some of the lions to MP, are getting worked up about the inability to control the unnatural deaths. The larger feeling is that though it is not necessarily the fault of the state forest department, the situation does not augur well either for lion conservation or their pending petitions in SC. Though the SC refused to entertain a review petition filed by Gujarat against the translocation order last year, the state has filed a curative petition, which is pending in court. Besides, two other petitions filed by individuals, contesting the ‘facts of the case,’ are pending.
An activist, who has also been campaigning against the translocation, says Gujarat’s excellent conservation efforts are being overshadowed by such incidents. “I don’t think it is the forest department that is to be blamed because railways is not a state subject. But such incidents indeed create a negative impression about lion safety here. The focus then shifts to these deaths than the excellent work the forest department has done in conserving them,” said the activist, who did not wish to be named.
Priyavrat Gadhvi, member of the state wildlife board, who recently filed a petition in the Supreme Court arguing that lion translocation to MP would endanger both the lions as well as the tigers, said the need of the hour was to sensitise the railways. “We need stringent standard operating procedures for train drivers whenever these trains pass through lion territories. Continuous honking, reduced speed are some immediate measures that can help. As a long-term solution, we should look at smart green infrastructure based ecological engineering,” said Gadhvi. “Now, the lions have moved out of their reserved area and spread far and wide. Many of the forest areas in which these cats roam do not even have enough forest guards. Since several positions are lying vacant in the forest department, how can you oversee the protection of an animal spread over such a large area with so few men,” says Dinesh Goswami, an environment activist with Prakruti Nature Club.
He fears that the recent incidents would tilt the argument in lion translocation against Gujarat. “We have been pointing out that lions will not be safe in MP, a state with high poaching incidents. But, given the number of deaths happening here, how will we convince the court that they are safe here, even if the deaths are not due to poaching,” said Goswami.