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Asiatic lion no more endangered species? Govt of India Rajya Sabha reply raises unanswered questions

By Our Representative
Is the Asiatic lion, living in and around the Gir sanctuary in Junagadh district of Gujarat, no more an endangered species, at least in Government of India perception? It would seem so, if the latest list of endangered species released by Union minister for environment, forests and climate change Prakash Javdekar in the Rajya Sabha are is indication.
Interesting though it may seem, the Gujarat government “officially” even now thinks that the Asiatic lion is an endangered category, even though it happily states in the state forest department website that has been removed from the list of “critically endangered” species.
To quote from website says, “Based on the recent lion population estimation held in May 2015, the current population of Asiatic Lion stands at 523, an increase of 27% over last five years.” The result is that, “The status of Asiatic lion has been upgraded from critically endangered to endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2010.”
In an answer to a question by Rajya Sabha MP from Chhattisgarh Parimal Nathwani, an ethnic Gujarati, the minister said, there are 20 animal species and 16 plant species in the endangered category in Gujarat (click HERE for the MP's media release on the subject).
Source: Gujarat forest department website
Gujarat’s 20 “endangered species”, the minister said in his written reply, are black mahaseer, golden mahaseer, leatherback sea turtle, green sea turtle, Indian white-backed vulture, long-billed vulture, red-headed vulture, steppe eagle, greater adjutant-stork, great Indian bustard, lesser florican, sociable lapwing, spotted greenshank, forest spotted owlet, dhole, caracal, blue whale, fin whale and Indian wild ass.
Nathwani, who is also one of the topmost executives of the Reliance Industries Ltd, wanted to know about “increase in the number of endangered species during the last two years, the names of such species with the areas/regions of their habitation, whether wildlife habitats are being destroyed due to mining activities in the country and the special efforts being made by government to stop/prevent damage/ destruction of wildlife habitats.”
The Gujarat government officials appear perplexed about whether the Asiatic lion should be placed under the endangered category. While one official said, “I have not come across any such thing”, another said, the Asiatic wildcat “cannot be called endangered anymore.”
The logic provided by the official is, “Since the Asiatic lion does not just live in the Gir national park and sanctuary, so far it’s only abode, and has been moving out because of its increased population, there is reason to believe that it is not endangered.”
The official said, “The carrying capacity of the Gir forests (national park and sanctuary) is a little more than 200 Asiatic lions. Now, the wild cat can be found in large parts of Saurashtra, leave alone Gir forests, thanks to a progressive rise in its population.”
While the official said he believes IUCN “may have” taken into account this factor while “removing” the Asiatic lion from the endangered list, officially, there is “no evidence” on this.
“In spite of the lions living in only one area, the IUCN listed them as endangered – a species still threatened but showing promises of recovery”, an expert site leading with the subject said (click HERE for IUCN’s redlist).
Quoting IUCN officials, the site added, “Asiatic lion exists as a single isolated population in India’s Gujarat state. The number of mature lions has been increasing, all occurring within one subpopulation (but in four separate areas, three of which are outside of the Gir forest protected area). Since the population now extends beyond the boundary of the lion sanctuary, and the numbers are stable, the subspecies is listed as endangered based simply on the population size.”

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