Satellite Habitats For Lions Planned In Gujarat

Project Lion contemplate preserving the population of Asiatic Lions and prevent their extinction. This Rs.1,300 crore project demands setting up eight satellite habitats for the lion species in Gir Sanctuary as well as in Saurashtra. The Union Ministry for Forests and Environment has given the initial approval and it has further been sent to the Union Cabinet for the final approval. The senior officials of the state forest department mentioned Gir, Girnar, Mitiyala, Babra Virdi, Hingolgadh, Umath Virdi in Bhavnagar, the coastal belt from Rujula to Jafrabad, extending up to Mahuva, as the proposed satellite habitats.

Coincidently, the amended Project Lion in function has similarities with the draft prepared by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). The WII recommended relocating Asiatic lions to protected areas of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and North Gujarat. These sanctuaries are Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhav National Park, and Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh; Sitamata Wildlife Sanctuary, Mukundara Hills Tiger Reserve and Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan and Jessore-Balaram Ambaji Wildlife Sanctuary in Banaskantha, Gujarat. The proposal suggested shifting a handful population of Asiatic lions to neighbouring states and one in Gujarat. However, this proposal was declined by the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment.

A member of WII stated that Gujarat was hesitant in relocating the lions outside of Gujarat which happens to be the reason behind the rejection of the proposal. In 2015 the lion population counted as 523 in the state of Gujarat which escalated to 674 as per estimates of June 2020. In 2018, the Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) outbreak in Gir Sanctuary and the neighbouring regions caused the death of 29 lions. It was further added that this decision by the state is not healthy as it might pose a threat to the surviving population of the Asiatic lions in case of any deadly virus outbreak in future. Relocating will help in conserving them.