GANDHINAGAR: The world’s only abode for Asiatic Lion, Gir National Park in Gujarat, has seen almost 100 per cent increase in the numbers of the big cat in last five years. The lion census, set to be released in May by the Gujarat government, reflects that their numbers are likely to cross 1,000, said a senior state government official, who is part of the exercise. Lion census is done every five years.
“The lion population is thriving and expanding and lion has entered new areas in the state. The presence of the big cat is now reported around coastal areas of Saurashtra and they are breeding. Some lions have crossed Rajkot, Jamnagar national highways and established its territory in coastal areas with large chunk of grasslands,” said the official on condition of anonymity.
But the concentration of the lion population in one state has also given rise to concerns that any outbreak of a disease could lead to extinction of the species. To prevent this, the state government has prepared gene pools of the lions and is takings measures for cross gene pool mating for gene variation. In 2018, an entire pride of 26 lions in Gujarat’s Gir National Park was wiped out in less than a month, with authorities citing canine distemper as the reason behind the deaths. The incident brought focus on non-execution of the Supreme Court order of 2013 on translocation of the Gir lions to another habitat to protect them from possible extinction in case of an epidemic.
The fear is seemingly backed by such incidents in the past when the entire lion population of Serengeti National Park in Tanzania was wiped out in 1994 due to canine distemper virus. “There is a serious threat looming but there is no movement on lion translocation because Gujarat does not want to part with lions,” said a Union environment ministry official. The plan for translocation of Asiatic lions from Gir Natioanl Park in Gujarat to the Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh dates back to 1993-94.