The Supreme Court today allowed trans-location of Asiatic lions from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh, saying the species is under threat of extinction and needs a second home.
A bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and C K Prasad has given six months time to the wildlife authorities concerned for trans-locating the lions.
Currently, there are around 400 Asiatic lions in Gujarat's Gir sanctuary.
The bench, however, said the introduction of African cheetahs in India from Namibia cannot be allowed, saying preservation of critically endangered native species, like the wild buffalo and the Great Indian Bustard, should be given primacy.
Under its Rs 300 crore Cheetah Reintroduction Programme, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had proposed the introduction of the African Cheetahs in the country.
The apex court, however, in May last year had stayed the implementation of the project.
The issue of relocating cheetahs from Namibia was raised before the court during a hearing on trans-location of Asiatic lions from Gir National Park and Sanctuary and surrounding areas to Palpur Kuno Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, pursuant to a decision taken by the National Board for Wildlife (NBW).
The Gujarat government has been fighting a legal battle in the apex court against trans-location of lions in the wake of a PIL seeking their trans-location to Madhya Pradesh.
Madhya Pradesh had last year sought translocation of lions to Kuno Palpur sanctuary, claiming it has all the wherewithal to ensure harmonious environment to the threatened species.
Gujarat had opposed the plea of Madhya Pradesh, saying lions would not be safe there as the central state had failed to preserve its own tiger population in the Panna reserve forest.
Gujarat had contended that it had sufficient infrastructure and will to conserve the lion population and it was not advisable to trans-locate them.
It had also said that efforts should be made for translocation of the near-extinct cheetah from South Africa to Kuno Palpur and only after sufficient efforts, if any, should be made to add lions gradually to that sanctuary.
The proposed move to introduce African cheetahs in India has been opposed by many environmentalists, who had said that the project was not placed before the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife for its approval.
Asiatic cheetah became extinct in the country in the 1950's. In July 2010, the MoEF had cleared the proposal to reintroduce African cheetah in India.
The proposed project had also faced opposition on the ground that it was against the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines on trans-location of wildlife species.
It was contended that IUCN guidelines categorically warn against the introduction of alien or exotic species, and that the African cheetah was genetically different from its Asiatic counterpart.