Etawah (Uttar Pradesh): The Uttar Pradesh Wildlife Department has completed the master plan for the state's first Lion Safari in Etawah.

The department now plans to make the safari operational within a month's time. 'The government has sanctioned Rs.5 crore. We have readied the master plan and the lay-out is being finalised.

The final plans have been sent to the higher officials for approval. Once the approvals are in place, we shall approach the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) for their sanction,' said Sujoy Banerjee, Divisional Forest Officer(National Chambal Wildlife Division), Agra.

Perceived to be one of the pet projects of the Samjawadi Party government, the Rs.35 crore Asiatic Lion Safari project is coming up in about 50 hectares of Fisher Forest in the Etawah district. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, during his last month's visit to the area had asked his officials to expedite the plan and the issue figured prominently in the state budget in the assembly. Well-placed sources said the top functionaries of the government are closely monitoring the progress of the project.

As per the master plan, the exotic Babool - the primary plantation of the Chambal ravines - are required to be eradicated (uprooted) and replaced with new soft-padded species, dominant in the Gir sanctuary area, to provide lions a favourable habitat. Staggered, contoured trenches are also being created.

The master plan also requires massive grass plantation for soil and moisture conservation, apart from provisions of permanent water for lions by digging deep water borings. The enrichment planting on rocky surfaces, forest officials said, require larger efforts as special machines are roped in to create holes which are then filled with soil and then used up for plantation.

According to Banerjee, the lay-out plan will determine the location and size of animal handling and visitor structures planned inside the safari. 'We are working aggressively on it and would hand it over in the next few days,' Banerjee said.

Even as the plans are readied, the Wildlife Department has already initiated talks with some of the popular zoos of the country, including those of Junagadh, Rajkot and Hyderabad.

'We are in communication with them and they are positive about it,' a high-ranking state official told this correspondent.

When contacted, Uttar Pradesh Chief Wildlife Warden, Rupak De, said, 'We are giving a final look on the plans (master and lay-out) and would soon submit it to the CZA for clearance. The work is being undertaken on ground with a war-footing. The current habitat(in Fisher Forest) is being modified.'

'We would shortly procure pure genetic bred Asiatic Lions (Panthera Leo Persica) and would first keep them in our existing zoos from which they would be shifted to the safari as it completes,' De said.

In the first phase, breeding centres would be set up inside the safari area. For that, either one male and four females or two males and 5 females would be procured, another wildlife official said.

'As per the CZA's conditions, the safari would be opened for public viewing only when we reach the number (of lions) up to 10. In the second phase, we would develop the requisite infrastructure inside the safari area,' he said.

As per the April-2010 census, India has 411 Asiatic Lions of which Gir National Park has around 297, Girnar Sanctuary has 24, Mityala Sanctuary 7 and Paniya Sanctuary 9. The coastal areas (Una, Kodinar, Sutrapada, and Chhara) have 21 while Savarkundla, Liliya and adjoining areas of Amreli and Bhavnagar has around 53 Asiatic Lions.


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