The Gujarat government has handed over a dozen leopards, listed under schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, for their upkeep to the Reliance Industries Limited (RIL)-owned 'Greens Zoological Rescue and Rehabilitation Kingdom' based in Jamnagar.
This is said to be the first public-private partnership (PPP) between a state government and a private entity in managing the leopard population, to begin with.
Forest officials said 23 more leopards, which were captured after they came in conflict with the humans over the years, will be handed over to the private rescue centre as part of a memorandum of understanding between the state government and the RIL.
"These leopards were not going to be released in the wild and hence 35 of them are being handed over to the RIL's rescue centre. Primarily, it will ease the state government from the burden of feeding and incurring others expenses to keep them in cages," said a forest officer on the condition of anonymity.
Roughly, the officer said, the government spends Rs 800 to Rs 1,000 per day on an adult leopard that needs a minimum of 5kg to 6 kg meat every day.
These leopards were kept at the Sakkarbaug Zoological Park in Junagadh. Officials said there are 70 such leopards which have been captured over the years after they were found to be involved in conflicts with humans. "With half of the wild cats gone in the private hands, it will ease the burden for us," said the officer.
"This is perhaps the first time that such an arrangement has been made involving a corporate house. This may help the government since the population of leopards has grown so much that even zoos don't want to keep them," another forest officer told DH.
Principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden, Shyamal Tikadar, told DH, "The MoU has been signed between the government and the private firm with the approval of Central Zoo Authority (CZA, the regulatory authority for zoos in the country). The new rescue centre has all the facilities prescribed by CZA. Besides, we will be monitoring the leopards."
The population of leopards has surged significantly over the last five years. In the 2016 census, 1,395 leopards were counted. Last year, 442 lions had been captured after they entered into human habitation in various parts of the state. According to the state government, 338 of them were released back into the wild while 82, which were involved in killing or attacking humans, were caged.
When contacted, Parimal Nathwani of RIL, said in a statement, "As a CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiative and to support the state forest department, the RIL has established a rescue centre in Jamnagar district after obtaining all the necessary approvals from the CZA (central zoo authority) and the state forest department. So far 12 leopards from Sakar-Baug Zoo-Junagadh have been received in our rescue centre for their upkeep."
The statement added that the rescue centre will not be open for public display as per norms.