Top sources said the project has received preliminary approval from the Union Ministry of Forests and Environment and has been sent for the final approval of the Union Cabinet.
Satellite habitats for lions have been proposed in the coastal belt from Bhavnagar, Gir, Girnar, Mitiala, Jessore-Hipwadi, Babra Virdi, Hingolgarh, Rajula to Jaffrabad and Mahuva among others, senior state forest department officials said.
Ironically, the current version of Project Lion is in stark contrast to the Project Lion draft prepared by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
‘Gujarat Have opposed the shifting of lions to Kuno Palpur.
WII recommended the relocation of Asiatic lions outside Saurashtra to sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and northern Gujarat.
Project Lion draft prepared by WII recommended relocation of some 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 Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan and Jessore-Balram Ambaji Wildlife Sanctuary in Banaskantha, Gujarat.
However, the proposal was rejected by the Union Ministry of Forests and Environment.
“Gujarat is not ready to move any lion outside the state. A WII member and lion expert said, this is the main reason for the rejection of WII’s proposal, which recommended shifting of a small population of lions to half a dozen sanctuaries in neighboring states and one sanctuary in Gujarat.
“The state’s authority over lions is not healthy as the lion population was proposed to be shifted to big cats to protect the lion population from any deadly virus outbreaks in future,” the member said.
It needs to be mentioned that Gujarat has been against the shifting of lions to the Kuno Palpur sanctuary, as ordered by the Supreme Court in 2010. The lion census in 2015 had counted 523 lions in the state which increased to 674 in June 2020 as per the most recent official estimates. In 2018, 29 lions succumbed to an outbreak of canine distemper virus (CDV) in the Gir sanctuary and neighboring areas.
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