Hundreds of villagers are being forced out of their homes in central India to make way for a new Asiatic lion sanctuary in an area where the animals were hunted to the brink of extinction in the nineteenth century.
The reason why it has been decided to create a second sanctuary for the Asiatic lion is because it is believed that the Gir Forest sanctuary where there are now around 400 Asiatic lions is overcrowded with lions and there is a fear that if the animals are stricken with a disease it might devastate the population and it is unsatisfactory for India to have all their eggs in one basket meaning all the Asiatic lions on the planet residing in a single sanctuary.
The biologist involved in the project, Faiyaz Khudsar, said that around 200 members of a tribal group would need to be relocated from the edge of the Kuno wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh to make way for the animals. Apparently, thousands of members of the Sahariya tribe from 24 villages in the Kuno Park have already been moved to other areas.
He states that as they live in remote areas this should be no problem. Last week, India’s highest court overturned objections to the initiative from Gujarat. Gujarat considers the lion to be part of its heritage and a major tourist attraction. No doubt they are worried that they will lose revenue from tourists to the Gir Forest reserve.
This project has been in the pipeline since the 1990 but has been mired in legal disputes. The Indian government has done well to maintain a stable population of lions in Gir for many years bearing in mind that the population fell to just 18 in 1893.
It seems that this is another classic conflict between people and wildlife. I’ve always said that there are too many people for the big wild cats to survive in India but this is an instance where the big cat is taking precedence over people.