Telangana agrees to transfer two pairs of lions to SGNP

MAHARASHTRA FOREST department, which has been rebuffed by Gujarat and Karnataka for the past three years for the transfer of Asiatic Lions from Gir and Bannerghatta national parks, has now received a positive response from Telangana, to increase the lion population at Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Borivali, Mumbai.

The Telangana forest department has agreed to exchange two pairs of lions from the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad with pairs of breeding rusty-spotted cats from SGNP. Under existing rules, animals have to be bartered between zoos. The Central Zoo Authority (CZA) regulates the exchange of animals of the endangered category listed under Schedule I and II of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, among zoos.

The Telangana-based park has 15 lions, including two African cubs born in April 2020. “We have received a positive response from Telangana. Now we are looking for the rusty-spotted cats which can be exchanged,” said Sunil Limaye, principal conservator of forests (wildlife).

Endemic to India, Sri Lanka and areas along the Indo-Nepal border, the rusty-spotted cats are the smallest wild cat species in the world protected under schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Since 2013, intending to breed animals outside of their natural environment in restricted conditions, including closed facilities to increase captive population numbers of the near-threatened rusty-spotted cats, SGNP started its captive breeding programme. However, captive breeding has remained unsuccessful. The park now has three rusty-spotted cats— one female, 11 and a male and female sibling, aged one year each.

At present, there are three lions in SGNP, a male, Ravindra (18). Its brother and sister Jespa and Gopa, who are both 10 years old. All three are hybrid lions — a cross between Asiatic and African. Their parents were brought to the park from abandoned circuses. Since inbreeding of wild cats is not allowed by the Central Zoo authority, SGNP has requested breeding lion pairs from the Telangana forest department.

The Central Zoo Authority (CZA) does not allow the inbreeding of wild cats and has also directed states to ensure that breeding of hybrid lions was phased out.
Officials said the park needs at least two pairs of lions to have a healthy population. With the increase in the lion population, SGNP has planned to resume the lion safari, spread across 12 hectares, in the park.

Transfer of lions from other states have been planned earlier but remained a non-starter. In July 2018, then Karnataka forest minister R Shankar had visited SGNP to view facilities and also discussed the possible exchange of lions and rusty-spotted cats from Bannerghatta National Park and Mysore Zoo. However, the plan never took off.

In August last year, the then Maharashtra minister for forest Sanjay Rathod had submitted a proposal to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to request Gujarat and the Centre to expedite the process of transferring at least one lion pair to SGNP.

City’s Byculla zoo has also requested a lion pair from Gir National Park. Officialssaid that as Gir National park has the highest population of lions, it gets multiple requests from zoos and parks in the country.

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