Here’s why Gujarat is relocating Asiatic lions from Gir

Gujarat is finally moving lions from the Gir National Park to the Barda Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Centre has given the long-pending plan to shift some lions to the Barda Wildlife Sanctuary which is around 100 kilometres away in-principal approval.

According to the 2020 census, there are 674 lions in the state –  a 29 per cent rise in its population compared to the 2015 census.

Of these, Gir alone accounts for around 400 lions, according to The Guardian.

Environmentalists have been urging the state to make space for lions by spreading them out across India. However, the state has refused such demands, leading to charges of possessiveness at the cost of their wellbeing.

Officials told Hindustan Times that Barda Wildlife Sanctuary, which was established in 1979, is a ‘natural home’ for the lions.

But not everyone agrees that Barda is a good choice. Anish Andheria, the president of the Wildlife Conservation Trust, told The Guardian the state government has come up with a ‘misleading gimmick’ and that some lions in search of space had already crossed over to Barda.

The Supreme Court in 2013 ordered the Gujarat government to translocate Asiatic lions from Gujarat to the Kuno National Park in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh within six months. However, the government is still to send a single lion.

The government in December told the Rajya Sabha the translocation of the Asiatic lions will be done only after consultations between empowered committees of the two states covering all aspects, including the safety and security.

Union Minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey also told the Lok Sabha that 240 lions have died in Gir forests between 2013-14 and 2022-23 (up to November 2022) as per the Gujarat Forest Department.

The state government has taken various steps to prevent unnatural deaths of big cats such as appointment of veterinary doctors, introduction of an ambulance service for timely intervention, treatment of lions and other animals, Choubey said.

According to a 2020 report by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the Gir lions have moved to forested patches through conducive corridors. They are now distributed in nine districts of Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli, Bhavnagar, Botad, Porbandar, Jamnagar, Rajkot and Surendranagar