Gir forest region protests against verdict on lions
AHMEDABAD - Even as the Gujarat government was all set on Thursday to file a review petition against Monday’s Supreme Court order to shift some of the state’s 411 rare Asiatic lions to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, wildlife enthusiasts and locals living outside the Gir forest near Junagadh launched an agitation to save ‘the pride of Gujarat’.
Villages and towns around the 1,450-square-km wildlife sanctuary observed a total shutdown on Thursday to protest the apex court ruling to translocate the big cats from their only abode in the world.
The bandh call given by the Gir Nature Club evoked tremendous response as it was backed by associations of hotels, travel agents and guides as well as trade unions.
A memorandum submitted to the mamlatdar at Sasan village near Gir said that the decision on shifting of the endangered species had been taken without proper scrutiny. Some villagers even threatened to commit self-immolation if the majestic animals were relocated from Gujarat.
The Supreme Court had on Monday allowed translocation, saying the lions were on the verge of extinction and needed a second home.
Egged on by support from even opposition parties, the Narendra Modi administration which had been fighting a court battle over shifting of lions since 2007 has now decided to explore all legal options to challenge the court verdict. Spokesman Nitin Patel told journalists after Wednesday’s cabinet meeting that the state government would fight till all legal options were exhausted.
A group of local youths also held a protest in Sasan against Dr Ravi Chellam, a scientist of the Wildlife Institute of India who was formally thanked by the Supreme Court for his assistance during the six-year-long legal wrangle.
The protesters carried placards against Chellam and shouted slogans.
Congress MLA from Talala Jasu Barad told Khaleej Times that the people in Gir had been opposing the very idea of translocation of lions because of their emotional attachment with the animals.
Bhikha Jethwa, father of slain wildlife activist Amit Jethwa, dashed off a letter to Modi urging him to file a review petition, and the Gir Nature Youth Clubs founded by his son submitted a memorandum in this regard in various talukas.
The SC order also said that the number of lions to be relocated from Gir to their second home in the Kuno wildlife sanctuary will be decided by a committee of wildlife experts.
At least 92 lions have died in the past two years in Gir but intense conservation efforts by the state Gujarat government over the past 50 years have brought them back from the brink of extinction.
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