The Supreme Court ruling that some of the Asiatic lions currently found only in Gujarat’s famous Gir sanctuary be shifted to the Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh must be welcomed as it may lead to the better preservation of the species. The SC has based its reasoning on the need for the Asiatic lion to have a second home to save it from extinction that could take place due to catastrophes such as epidemics or forest fires. Wildlife conservationists have long been in favour of such a second home for the Asiatic lion as at present all the eggs are in one basket with the lions preserved in India only in the Gir forest. With the Asiatic lion on the ‘critically endangered’ list since 2000, it makes sense to have another home for the lions in case anything happens to the small population at present in Gir. It cannot be denied that the state of Gujarat has, over the years, done a fairly good job of conserving the lion. At the beginning of the last century there were barely a dozen Asiatic lions left in the wild in India with hunting and human encroachment having shrunk their population and habitat. Their numbers have steadily grown since with Gir having been declared a national park in 1975 and with the number of lions being approximately 411 at present, with 97 males, 162 females and 152 cubs.
Yet the lions in Gir remain vulnerable not just because their small numbers are confined in a narrow geographical base but also because most of them have descended from a narrow genetic base of about 25 animals since early in the last century. Besides, Gir has already reached a saturation point, with a further growth in this animal’s population likely to spill out and over the confines of the sanctuary. This is not to suggest that the Gujarat government’s arguments against the translocation of the lions to MP are entirely invalid. It is a fact that MP has had difficulty in looking after the endangered animals it already has, such as tigers whose numbers have been decimated rapidly because of poaching in the state. However, Gujarat should not have taken the stand in court that the lion was the ‘pride of Gujarat’ and supposedly the property of the people of the state and hence could not be translocated. This argument about the animal, which once had a nationwide domain, does not take into account the imperative of preserving the species that must override any narrower concerns.