By Tadrash Shah:
Author’s Note: The Supreme Court’s resolution to relocate the lions of Gir to Madhya Pradesh instigates the caveat from residents of Gir out of their love for lions. Should this unique species face the exodus? Is it really required? Is Madhya Pradesh upfront about its motives? Do the emotions sustained due to the coexistence rationalize the polarity? I have tried to pose facts after my recent visit to Gir.
There are a certain memories and experiences in life that you can’t get over. Usually they are largely an emotional association. The experience I had on my recent visit to the Gir Forest of Gujarat, which is known as the single home for Asiatic Lions, mesmerizes me till date. I tend to get quixotic too. This may seem like an exaggeration, but seeing a Lion almost 8 feet long and 4 feet in height passing by you at a distance of a mere 25 feet, gives you goose bumps and your heart starts to pound. You cannot decide between the feelings of amusement and fear. Fear derides amusement.
The instant thought that struck me then, and has perhaps struck many was why is this tertiary consumer of the food-chain, not our national animal. He is a true king of the Jungle. His gait -slow and firm, conduct- reckless and indifferent, structure- gigantic and attractive, roar- bone chilling and terrifying and his psyche- trustworthy and royal; all these qualify him for the status of a national animal rather than a tiger who is as huge although not as royal and attractive. All of these adjectives that I bestowed upon the lion, I can justify each of them with enough evidences, few of which I shall do at the end of this article.
Now when the Supreme Court has passed the resolution to translocate lions from Gir to Madhya Pradesh, the question tosses between emotional attachments versus the indemnity of existence. Sadly, this is not a love story where one lets the other go for his good, while saving the pain of separation for himself. People here are so emotionally attached to the lions that they do not hurt them in anyway. Kids are taught to shout back at the lions, raise the baton or chisel at them but not to hit them. In case a lion preys upon their cattle, they are not supposed to retaliate and let the lion have his food. When these people see lions on their way to the farms and other places, they feel blessed having caught a glimpse of “Narsinh bhagwan”. The royal nature of the lion is proved from the fact that it never keeps any leftovers of its prey and unless prompted, never attacks humans unlike the cunning tiger.
The coexistence of humans and lions must be seen in order to be believed, in this frame of biodiversity. Hence, the emotional attachment is justified. When I stated “attractive” I confess that I could not control the urge to see this creature for yet another time, each time.
The Supreme Court judgment has instigated many debates but sadly they seem more political than ecological. The people of Gir argue that for the past 130 years, lions have existed there. Even after the 1982 storm when Gir was utterly destroyed, lions saved their community. Since 1968, the census shows that the population of lions has increased continuously in 2010. African lions did die due to a disease named canine distemper but in Gir the villagers do not keep dogs, hence Asiatic lions cannot catch this disease. Regarding wildfire, the forest authorities have installed fire extinguishing systems already. The locals, who know the lions the closest out of mutual regard, say that lions will not be able to survive in new forests, in spite of an amicable environment, and will die out of perplexity in a new habitat. Parimal Nathvani (Member of Parliament) asserted that in villages around MP, people keep rifles and revolvers which risks the lions due to their nature of carefree meanderin. As said earlier, people in Gir never harm the lions. Moreover, Hiren Mehta of Chitralekha stated that in 1950 three lions from Gir were translocated to the borders of MP and UP and lions did adapt to new vistas but when their population increased and they started being spotted in nearby villages, they were killed by villagers out of fear and security. Hence, there are psychological grounds too to the contrariety to translocation. Wildlife photographer Bhushan Pandya also mentioned that except the skin, everything is similar in lions and tigers. There are instances in China and Bangladesh where nails and teeth of lions are sold in the name of tigers. Will the lions be secure from poaching for these purposes?
I don’t know whether the decision is for good and I agree to it partially. In my opinion, we must support the translocation of a few lions such that the biodiversity in Gir, which is the prime place of existence of these lions, is not affected. The experts must consider the emotional, cultural, ecological and historical parameters too. If this is out of serving the economic interests of MP in the veil of biodiversity conservation, it must be vigilantly tested. Also we must understand that these lions are disturbed too much in Gir due to the increasing infrastructural developments, tourists, pollution and human intervention apart from the locals. I am against the special arrangements made by forest departments for VIPs to see lions and also believe that the upcoming Safari Parks in Gir which are set up only for profit making through the several lion shows are not appropriate. A place for lion shows is fine but this could not be a business at the cost of degrading the natural setup of these rare species.
As for me, I just cannot bring myself out of the wonderful experience in Gir. I could sense a belonging in the wonderful place and hence my emotional chord might manifest in arguments against translocation. I shall end with a comment by Dhruv Bhatt which testimonies cultural belongingness too — “Rehva Deje, Gir e Gir chhe, Koini Jaagir Nathi” — “Leave it, Gir is Gir, it’s no one’s property”.