By: Pankaj Sood
Solan: In Himachal, we often hear of ‘Sangarsh Manch’ as a people’s action group formed to oppose a hydel project or some other mega-project, but in the Renuka area of Sirmaur, local people have organized themselves not to save their own livelihood, but the lives of ‘now helpless’ lions inhabiting the only lion safari in the state. Following direction from the Central Zoo Authority, the lion safari, spread over seven hectares of land, is proposed to be closed completely. Last week two lionesses were shifted from here to Gopalpur Zoo in Palmpur and the remaining one lion and three lionesses would also be sent to the same zoo in the coming days. Claiming that the state government and the wildlife department are to be blamed for the mess, residents have now decided to take up the cause themselves.
In an effort to save the safari, locals have now urged PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) to intervene in the matter. Office bearers of a ‘Sangarsh Manch’ formed to oppose the move have already sent a written complaint to them in this regard. It is learnt that CZA did not want to increase the number of these lions as they suspected the genetic purity of the breed residing here. Sources claimed Himachal government’s wildlife department not only failed to prove the genetic purity of the breed but, surprisingly, also avoided various guidelines set by CZA to know the purity or exact breed of these wild cats. It is also learnt that even after repeated requests, DNA samples of the lions were never provided to CZA by the wildlife department of the state.
Once an adobe for 28 healthy Indian-Afro lions, the safari officials were also targeted by former environment minister Menaka Gandhi for its worse upkeep. This safari came under strong criticism when lions started dying during 1996 to 2005. “Although there were no concrete findings about why the lions were dying, even than authorities straight-forwardly decided to close the safari,” said Vikram, an activist and member of Sangarsh Manch. It was said that as all lions here were coming from the same family, it might have created genetic problems. CZA had then banned proliferations of lions in the safari and their number started drastically reducing. The wildlife department was advised to bring lions from different families for cross-breeding, but they failed to do so.
“There is no logic that a lion can be safer in a cage at Gopalpur Zoo rather than in an open safari,” said Vikram, adding that five out of the six lions sent to the zoo till 2008 died young.
Fellow activists Jagat, Virender and Ravidatt said all governments in the state had ignored the safari, and therefore they decided to fight for its survival themselves. They feel that closure of the lion safari would have an impact on tourism in the area as well. A retired animal husbandry department employee and president of local kisan sabha, Ramesh Verma, said that because of the negligence of the wildlife department, the Indo-African breed of lions is on the verge of extinction. He also alleged that the wildlife department of the state had failed to prepare a master plan for the safari, as required by the CZA. One pair of lions was brought to Renuka from Junagarh in Gujrat in late 70s. After seeing an encouraging growth in the number of lions in the area, the government conferred it the status of lion safari in 1986. Interestingly, the Nawab of Junagarh in pre-independence era had banned lion hunting in his empire and from that time forests of Junagarh are safe havens for lions.