Thursday, April 30, 2015
Lion as national animal? Central panel discusses idea.
KOLKATA: The Narendra Modi government is considering a proposal to make lion India's national animal, pushing out the tiger that has had the coveted status since 1972. The idea has triggered a furore among wildlife activists who called it bizarre, saying it would dilute the campaign to save tigers and pave the way for clearance of industrial projects near tiger sanctuaries.
It was Rajya Sabha MP from Jharkhand Parimal Nathwani, an industrialist, who sent the proposal to the environment ministry. It was then passed on to the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL), which functions under the ministry. It is packed with members from Gujarat, say sources.
A standing committee of the board, chaired by environment minister Prakash Javadekar, discussed the issue in March. "The committee requested the ministry to consider wider consultations on the matter," said Raman Sukumar, a member of NBWL.
The fact that the proposal to make the lion India's national animal is now with the board indicates it has generated significant interest in the administration, say sources.
However, NBWL member H S Singh said several issues have to be taken into account before considering the proposal. "Tigers are found across 17 states in India, whereas lion is found in only one," said Singh.
MP Nathwani had made the same proposal in 2012, but the then forest minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, said in Rajya Sabha that it was not even under consideration. In December last year, he again put a question in Parliament (No 2861) whether there was a proposal to make lion the national animal.
Union environment Prakash Javadekar replied there was no such proposal. In spite of this, the issue was discussed at a committee meeting, chaired by Javadekar, on March 14, 2015, where it was listed as agenda item No. 4.
In a recent countrywide assessment, it was found that India is home to more than 2,200 tigers, whereas the Asiatic lion population, estimated at 411, is confined to Gujarat's Gir.
Tiger was adopted as the national animal at a meeting of the Indian Board for Wildlife (now NBWL) in 1972 in view of its "worldwide importance, existence in the entire country and the need for its protection".
"Tiger is our national glory. India is the only place where you can get to see a tiger in the wild. After Taj Mahal, tiger is the second biggest attraction among foreign tourists visiting the country every year. We must hold on to this glory," said conservationist Belinda Wright.
Conservationist Bittu Sahgal, editor of Sanctuary magazine, fumed at the idea. "In India, both tiger and lion are under unbridled attack. It's best we stay away from renaming charades and focus on enhancement of protection and habitat expansion for both tigers and lions," he said.
Prerna Bindra, a former member of NBWL, pointed out a basic flaw in the proposal — the Asiatic lion is severely limited in its range. "The national animal needs to have a wide range across India, be a part of our culture, be familiar and symbolic — which the tiger is. The idea of saving the tiger means saving the varied ecosystems it lives in, which sustain India," she said.
Bengal wildlife advisory board member Joydip Kundu agreed with them and pointed out that India's conservation history tells us why tiger was made the national animal. "If you really want to make lion the national animal, you should first restore at least 10-15 natural habitats which are suitable for lions. Then the lions should be relocated there from Gir. Otherwise, as things stand now, lions are staring at a genetic bottleneck, which is common in populations concentrated in small pockets," Kundu said.
Due to inbreeding, the single population of lions at Gir is susceptible to genetic disorders. Also, an epidemic or a natural disaster would seal their fate, confined as they are to just 258sq km. A relocation project was proposed in 2004, where some of the endangered big cats were to be shifted from Gir to Madhya Pradesh's Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary to save them from extinction. But, the Gujarat government vehemently opposes it to this day.