Home » The Saga of Asiatic Lion Conservation: From Near Extinction to the Battle of Reintroduction

The Saga of Asiatic Lion Conservation: From Near Extinction to the Battle of Reintroduction

by In-house Editor


Once thriving across West and Southern Asia, Asiatic lions faced a perilous decline, finding refuge only in the Gir National Park. The conservation journey, marked by historical endeavors and contemporary challenges, sheds light on the complex narrative of preserving this majestic species.

A Glimpse into History

The conservation narrative dates back to the era of the Maharaja of Gwalior, who, under Lord Curzon’s advice in 1905, attempted an unconventional solution – introducing African lion cubs near Sheopur. However, this effort backfired as the lions grew, causing havoc by attacking livestock and humans. Subsequently, a hunting campaign was initiated to eliminate these lions.

Post-Independence Conservation Initiatives

Post-independence, India revisited the idea of conservation through reintroduction. In 1956, the Indian Wildlife Board proposed the Chakia forest in Uttar Pradesh as a potential second home. A trio of lions was relocated from Gir to ChandraPrabha Sanctuary near Varanasi in 1957. Despite initial promise, the lion population dwindled in the new habitat, attributed to various factors like limited ranging area, absence of monitoring systems, and human-wildlife conflict.

The Emergence of the Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project

In 1990, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) advocated for a second wild population to safeguard the Gir National Park’s primary population. A comprehensive assessment identified potential habitats, including Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary, Sita Mata Wildlife Sanctuary, Darrah – Jawahar Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, and Barda Wildlife Sanctuary.

In 2020, five additional sites were proposed, with Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary emerging as the most suitable. The Asiatic Lion Reintroduction project, formalized in 2004, unfolded in three phases (1995-2015). The Kuno-Palpur area was designated as a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1981.

The Project’s Turbulent Trajectory

However, the project encountered formidable resistance from the Gujarat government during Phase 2. Gujarat, citing cultural heritage, opposed sharing its lion population. The disagreement reached the Supreme Court in 2013, which ruled in favor of Madhya Pradesh, dismissing Gujarat’s objections.

As of 2021, the project remains stalled, with the lions still in Gujarat. The Kuno-Palpur sanctuary, caught in the crossfire, awaits its intended role as India’s first cheetah sanctuary.

The tale of Asiatic lion conservation intertwines historical missteps, contemporary conservation efforts, and legal battles. The future of this endangered species hangs in the balance, navigating through the intricate web of politics, culture, and ecological dynamics.

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