Ambulance, hospital in the offing for Asiatic lion

Ambulance, hospital in the offing for Asiatic lion

The Gir National Park currently houses more than 600 Asiatic lions. AFP file photo

A dedicated ambulance and a new veterinary hospital are among the sops that the central and Gujarat governments plan to bring in for better conservation of the Asiatic lions at their only home in Gir forest.

They would be part of the new Asiatic Lion Conservation project, launched on Friday by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest in collaboration with the Gujarat government.

The hospital would come up in Gir for which Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izzatnagar, has been appointed as a consultant.

The Gir National Park currently houses more than 600 Asiatic lions. With the rise in lion population, the Gujarat government has in the past notified the adjoining areas of Girnar, Pania and Mitiyala as sanctuaries to widen the protected area network.

To further improve the world's only habitat of the Asiatic lion and protect them better in the wild, the two governments joined hands for the three-year-long conservation project costing Rs 97.85 crore. The cost would be shared at the 60:40 ratio between the centre (Rs 58.71 crore) and the state (Rs 39.14 crore).

Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan presented the first instalment of Rs 17.03 crore to Gujarat officials, who said the money would be a part of a bigger and ambitious Rs 350 crore project to improve the lion conservation measures.

But five years after a Supreme Court judgement on the second home for Asiatic lions, the officials said there was no decision on the translocation of lions from Gir to Kuno Palpur sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, identified as the potential second site way back in 1993.

While the apex court asked the ministry to take “urgent steps for re-introduction of Asiatic lion from Gir forests to Kuno”, Soumitra Dasgupta, Inspector General of Forest at the ministry said an expert committee created for advising the government on the translocation met six times since its formation in 2013 and was yet to submit its recommendation.

“But we have not shut our eyes to the issue,” observed Vardhan.

One of the key reasons to find out a second home for the lions was the threat of a disease outbreak that can wipe off the population in the wild.

Last year, at least 24 lions died at Gir because of an outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus. “We imported vaccines from Atlanta, USA last year and used a part of the dose. The rest are with us and can be used if there is a need,” said R Kumar, Additional Chief Secretary, Gujarat.