e outside Gujarat to ensure genetic diversification and protection from disease or natural disaster.
Evidence suggests the gene pool is dangerously shallow, meaning a disease that affects one Gir lion could quickly affect many. Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park saw a third of its 3,000 lions wiped out in 1994 by canine distemper, likely brought by tourists’ dogs. Decades earlier, Tanzania’s Ngorogoro Crater lions were decimated when rains spawned swarms of blood-sucking flies that left the cats with festering sores.
But Gujarat denies any need to move lions from the state. It dismisses the idea that disease or calamity could pose a threat.
To give the lions more space, Gujarat recently opened a small second sanctuary on its coast. Conservationists say the two populations are still too close together.
To address gene pool concerns, Gujarat is breeding them in a zoo, but conservationists say it’s ridiculous to think those could be a substitute for lions raised in the wild.
“From a scientific perspective, this is the worst thing they could do. If they really cared about the species’ survival, they would want this second home,” said conservation biologist William Laurance, of Australia’s James Cook University.
The central government and Madhya Pradesh state have already prepared the second lion home in Kuno, relocating villages and hiring specialists to build up a prey base for the cats. In 2006, an ecologist on the project filed a lawsuit challenging how such a plan could be enacted but no lions ever sent.
The Supreme Court is now deliberating on the messy dispute and could — if it wants — resolve it within weeks.
“India risks becoming a champion of extinction,” said Faiyaz Khusdar, the ecologist who filed the lawsuit. “People would never forgive us if we lose these beautiful cats.”
Gujarat also doubts that other states will keep lions safe. And here, they echo global concern.
Environmentalists increasingly question India’s commitment to its endangered wildlife, including half the world’s remaining tigers, its only black tigers, and more than half the world’s Asiatic elephants and one-horned rhinoceroses.
As the country heaves with 1.2 billion people, it has quickly industrialized its countryside, destroying most of its forests along with wetlands and mangrove stands.
More than 40 animal and plant species have gone extinct in a half-century and 134 more are critically endangered. Poaching and poisoning are rampant, despite a 1972 law criminalizing such killings. A recent study in the journal Biological Conservation counted 114 species being poached, including elephants and rhinos for their tusks, and tigers for body parts usedin C
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