The project has received preliminary approval of the Union ministry for forest and environment and has been sent for final nod of the union cabinet, top sources said.
Satellite habitats for lions have been proposed in Umath Virdi in Bhavnagar, Gir, Girnar, Mitiyala, Jesor-Hipawadi, Babra Virdi, Hingolgadh, the coastal belt from Rajula to Jafrabad and extending up to Mahuva among others, senior state forest department officials said.
Ironically, the current version of Project Lion rolled into motion is in sharp contrast with project lion draft prepared by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
‘Gujarat has been averse to shifting lions to Kuno Palpur’
The WII had recommended shifting Asiatic lions outside Saurashtra to sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and north Gujarat.
The Project Lion draft prepared by WII had recommended shifting of a few lions to seven sanctuaries namely Madhav National Park, Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, and Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh; Sitamata Wildlife Sanctuary, Mukundara Hills Tiger Reserve and Kumbalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan and Jessore-Balaram Ambaji Wildlife Sanctuary in Banaskantha, Gujarat.
This proposal, however, was rejected by the Union ministry of forest and environment.
“Gujarat is loath to translocate any lions outside the state. This is the major reason behind rejection of the WII proposal which recommended shifting a small population of lions to half a dozen sanctuaries in neighboring states and one in Gujarat,” said a WII member and lion expert.
“State’s possessiveness over lions is not healthy as moving Big Cats was proposed to safeguard lion population from getting wiped off by any deadly virus outbreaks in the future,” the member said.
It needs mention that Gujarat has been averse to shifting lions to Kuno Palpur sanctuary as ordered by the Supreme Court in 2010 too. In 2015 Lion Census had counted 523 lions in the state which grew to 674 as per recent official estimates in June 2020. In 2018, 29 lions had succumbed to Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) outbreak in Gir sanctuary and neighbouring areas.