Cheetahs bruise Rajasthan’s pride; Seeks lion for all!
                                                                                                      File Photo

Jaipur,September 15. Smarting under the Centre’s choice of Madhya Pradesh for the re-introduction of cheetahs, Rajasthan has raised the issue of re-location of lions to other parts of the country from Gir in Gujarat, their only natural habitat in India at present. Rajasthan, a state with the history of cheetahs in the wild, has been one of the strong contenders for hosting cheetahs, along with the neighbouring MP. Various surveys done the past too had   identified locations in the Hadauti region of Rajasthan as suitable for cheetah   reintroduction.

The Rajasthan State Board for Wildlife (SBWL), which met on September 13 under the chairmanship of Chief Minister  Mr Ashok Gehlot, apart from taking up environment and wildlife related issues, also made observations on the decision to pick Kuno Palpur sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh for the release of cheetahs. The issue remains a hot topic in the political and conservation circles in Rajasthan as the day  for the release of  the first lot of cheetahs—eight cheetahs being brought from Namibia—has been fixed for September 17, the birthday of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It is also being said that Prime Minister Modi himself would be present at the site of release of the cheetahs. What perhaps adds salt to the bruises of Rajasthan is the decision to take the   cheetah consignment from Namibia to Kuno Palpur via Rajasthan. For this, the flight with the cheetahs from Namibia would first land at the Jaipur airport.

“Why the lions are not relocated to other parts of the country than keeping them in Gujarat alone?” wondered Gehlot. The authorities had just informed Rajasthan that reintroduction of cheetahs was not possible immediately, whatever that meant. Gehlot asked the officials to send a reminder to the central authorities on introducing cheetahs in Rajasthan at a later stage.  

Though it was not in the agenda, the SBWL meeting discussed both cheetah reintroduction and the exclusivity of the lion population in Gujarat.”Perhaps the one India concept is not there when it comes to lions,” noted Bharat Singh, a member of the board and former minister. In fact even before the agenda could be taken up, Singh said the expert teams which visited Rajasthan for surveys had found the Mukundara Hills National Park in Hadauti as much good a location as those in Africa where the animals existed in the wild at present.

“It has been a totally a political decision not to give the chance to Rajasthan,” Singh charged. He suggested that the state government should pursue the matter and as soon as a second phase for the reintroduction of cheetahs was to be considered, stake its claim. 

As for the lions, senior officials in the meeting pointed out that there had been a Supreme Court order on introducing lions to Kuno Palpur pending. That was not being implemented. “Why lions cannot be introduced in Rajasthan as well,” a senior bureaucrat wondered. An  expert from the Wildlife Institute of India(WII), who joined the meeting online, said that WII, after surveys, had recommended introduction of lions to Kuno Palpur first and then to locations in Rajasthan.

Rajasthan was first considered a suitable destination for cheetahs during the time of the UPA government when Jairam Ramesh was the Union Minister for Environment and Forests. Shahgarh Bulge of Jaisalmer was first surveyed and found suitable for cheetahs though the local population was not happy about the move. Recent surveys by WII have found the Hadauti region—from Rawatbhata to Gandhi Sagar—as a suitable location for cheetahs.

The SBWL meeting turned out to be quite unusual and historic this time. There had been more than two postponements of the meeting in the past due to various factors, including the preoccupations of its chairman, Gehlot. This time too the meeting, which was scheduled at 7.30 pm, was to be rescheduled for 9 pm. However, despite the late night sitting, it went in detail over the issues and lasted for three hours to conclude at midnight.