New Delhi: The endangered Asiatic Lion will have a second home outside Gujarat. The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Centre to shift the Asiatic Lions from the Gir forest in Gujarat to Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh saying the big cats need a second home to prevent their extinction due to some epidemic or large forest fire.

The Apex Court, however, quashed the Environment and Forest Ministry's decision to introduce African cheetahs in Kuno sanctuary from Namibia, saying it ‘is arbitrary and illegal and clear violation of the statutory requirements provided under the Wildlife Protection Act’.

A bench of justices KS Radhakrishnan and CK Prasad turned down the contentions of Gujarat that the Asiatic Lion is a family member and cannot be parted with and suggested an exclusive parliamentary legislation be enacted for preservation and protection of endangered species.

The bench said the number of Asiatic Lions that would be moved to the sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh would depend upon the density of prey base and other related factors, which will be determined by a committee comprising MoEF officials, Chief Wildlife Wardens of the two states and technical experts. It directed the Centre to take urgent steps within six months in this regard.

"We are of the view that the various decisions taken by National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) that Asiatic Lion should have a second home to save it from extinction due to catastrophes like epidemic, large forest fire etc, which could result in extinction, is justified.

"Ministry of Environment and Forest's (MoEF) decision for re-introduction of Asiatic Lion from Gir to Kuno is that of utmost importance so as to preserve the Asiatic Lion, an endangered species, which cannot be delayed. MoEF is, therefore, directed to take urgent steps for re-introduction of Asiatic Lion from Gir forests to Kuno," it said.

While giving the green signal to move the Lions, the court directed the Centre to take urgent steps for preservation of other endangered native species, like Great Indian Bustard, Bengal Florican, Dugong, the Manipur Brow Antlered Deer and the Wild Buffalo.

The court while quashing the MoEF's proposed Rs 300 crore project to introduce the African cheetah into India said “The ministry has not conducted any detailed study before passing the order of introducing foreign cheetah to Kuno."

"A detailed scientific study has to be done before introducing a foreign species to India, which has not been done in the instant case," the court said adding NBWL, a statutory board established for the purpose under the Wildlife Protection Act, was also not consulted.

The bench approved Kuno sanctuary as a second home for the lions saying it was the ‘historical habitat’ of big cats and ‘all possible steps have been taken by Madhya Pradesh, MoEF and Union of India’ to make the wildlife sanctuary fit for re-introduction of Asiatic Lions.

It said there was a need to take urgent steps as ‘no species can survive on the brink of extinction indefinitely and the probabilities associated with a critically endangered species make their extinction a matter of time’.


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