The Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that since the introduction of African Cheetahs in the Madhya Pradesh's Kuno National Park, the government and the National Tiger Conservation Authority have decide to reexamine the entire aspect of translocation of Asiatic lions from the Gir National Park.
A bench of Justices BR Gavai and Vikram Nath was told by the Centre in its application moved by additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati that a status report in this regard will be filed before the court within six months on the basis of the advice of the experts on the tanslocation of Asiatic lions from Gir to Kuno.
The application said that in view of the recent introduction of African cheetahs in the Kuno National Park and steps taken to secure the future Asiatic lions beyond the Gir National Park in Gujarat, the Union ministry and NTCA have decided to re-examine the translocation of Asiatic lions from an expert's perspective.
"A status report/appropriate application will be filed before this court within six months on the basis of the advice of the experts on translocation of Asiatic lions from Gir to Kuno," it said.
The government said that introduction of Cheetah in India is being done in accordance with the guidelines of International Union for Conservation of Nature and moreover.
It said that the Cheetahs have been released into larger enclosures and free ranging conditions post-mandatory quarantine period, and they have started hunting on their own in the KNP.
"In order to provide the Cheetahs stress-free environment for successful establishment of the founder populations, it is not appropriate to introduce one more carnivore (Lion) species in the area immediately, as it would be detrimental for the survival chances of both the species owing to the inter-species competition," the government said.
The application said although, the cheetahs and the lions in African countries are known to co-exist, it is pertinent to mention that competitively subordinate and vulnerable carnivores (Cheetah) should be released prior to dominant species (lion). The Centre said that owing to the timely protection measures taken by the Centre and Gujarat government with the support of the people, the Asiatic lion population in the state grew by almost 29 per cent over the last five years.
"The lion population is thriving with 674 individuals, as per June 2020, estimates compared to 411 individuals in 2010. Since the population of lion is showing healthy growth trends and now it is naturally dispersing into a larger landscape and not confined to a smaller habitat which was prone to epidemics and natural disaster. Further, several Meta populations of lions have been established across the landscape", it said.
The government said that for securing the future of Asiatic lions in the country the Centre has launched Asiatic Lion Project for long term conservation of the species whose ultimate goal is to ensure "maintaining a viable Asiatic Lion Population".
"The Gir Protected Area population and natural dispersal in a new surrounding area including Barda Wildlife Sanctuary have the potential to achieve this goal. The main objective of Project Lion are-- to secure and restore lions' habitats for managing its growing population, to scale up livelihood generation and participation of local communities and to become a global hub of knowledge on big cat disease diagnostics and treatment inclusive biodiversity conservation through project lion initiative," the Centre said.
On April 15, 2013, the top court while quashing the order of Ministry of Environment and Forests to introduce African Cheetahs into KNP on the ground that no detailed study has been conducted before any foreign species is being introduced in India has said that country's top priority should be to protect Asiatic lions.
"We may indicate that our top priority is to protect Asiatic lions, an endangered species and to provide a second home. Various steps have been taken for the last few decades, but nothing transpired so far. Crores of rupees have been spent by the Government of India and the state of Madhya Pradesh for re-introduction of Asiatic lion to Kuno", it had said.
"At this stage in our view the decision taken by MoEF for introduction of African Cheetahs first to Kuno and then Asiatic Lions is arbitrary and illegal and clear violation of the statutory requirements provided under the wildlife protection act. The order of MOEF to introduce African Cheetah into Kuno cannot stand in the eye of law and the same is quashed”, the top court had said in 2013 order.