Rethink Gir lions’ nomenclature: State wildlife officials

BA lion and a lioness rest on Shetrunji riverbed near Krakach village in Liliya taluka of Amreli. Javed Raja

IN the aftermath of the Supreme Court order to translocate Asiatic lions from their only natural habitat of Gir forests, the wildlife officers of Gujarat have mooted the idea of changing the lions' official nomenclature from "six metapopulations" to "individual populations". In its submission before the Supreme Court, the office of the Chief Wildlife Warden of Gujarat had explained metapopulation as those populations of lions "that infrequently interacted among populations located at different places in Gir region".

Besides the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, Asiatic lions have settled in Girnar Sanctuary, Mithyala Sanctuary, Paniya Sanctuary, Liliya taluka of Amreli and Savarkundla and Mahuva talukas of Bhavnagar. Lions living separately in these six areas have been identified as metapopulations, meaning the natural expansion of the home range of these species.

However, officers are now thinking of revising this interpretation. "Lions are found 80 kilometres away in Bhavnagar district from the eastern most border of Gir in Dhari taluka of Amreli. These lions hardly interact with those in Gir. Since these are non-interactive populations, they can be called individual populations instead of metapopulations," a top forest officer told The Indian Express on Friday.

Lions have expanded their natural habitat in gauchars, wasteland and revenue lands of Amreli, Bhavnagar and Porbandar districts. Along with Gir forests, they form the Greater Gir area spread across 1,883 square kilometres. "To change their nomenclature from metapopulations to populations, we are thinking of declaring gauchar and wastelands that lions inhabit as sanctuaries," the officer further said.

The Gir forest is spread across 1,412 square kilometres. However, lions have marked another 500 sqaure kilometres of wasteland, gauchar and revenue areas as their territory. The big cats have expanded their habitat linearly towards the east from Dhari along the banks of river Shetrunji.

"The distance between the Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary and the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve is around 60 km. However, tigers of both these sanctuaries are considered different populations. So, why can't meta populations of Asitic lions living far away from one another be considered individual populations," argued another senior wildlife officer.

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