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‘Project Lion could displace Maldharis within Gir to create ‘leonine Eden’

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    2nd Nov, 2020

Maldharis, a traditional pastoral people found in and around the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, might end up being uprooted from their homes, if the Project Lion proposal takes shape, as per a report.

Context

Maldharis, a traditional pastoral people found in and around the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, might end up being uprooted from their homes, if the Project Lion proposal takes shape, as per a report.

About

What is Project Lion?

  • Project Lion was launched by the government on August 15, 2020. 
  • The proposal, created by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the Gujarat forest department, talks of creating ‘an inviolate space of 1,000 square kilometres’ (sq km).   
    • Inviolate spaces are areas free from anthropomorphic pressures.
    • Resource extraction of forest produce like fuel wood, fodder and minor forest produce as well as human habitation are not allowed in such places.
  • The proposal reads:

“It is important that Project Lion restores sufficient exclusive lion habitat of about 1,000 sq km through incentivised voluntary relocation of forest villages and Maldhari (local pastoral communities) settlements from within the Gir Conservation Areas so that the only surviving Asiatic lion population gets the space it requires for performing its ecological role.”

  • The proposal draws from the practices adopted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the national body in charge for steering the government’s flagship tiger conservation programme, Project Tiger.

Asiatic Lions

  • Asiatic lion is the sub-species named Panthera leo peo of lions. 
  • Indian Lions are mostly found in North western and central parts of India and are easily spotted in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • According to the latest count, the lion population has registered an increase of 25 per cent in the last five years and now stands at 674.

Quick facts

  • Common name: Asiatic Lion
  • Scientific name: Panthera leo persica
  • Type: Mammals
  • Group name: Pride
  • Average life span in the wild: 16 to 18 years
  • Weight: 300 to 500 pounds
  • IUCN Red List Status: Endangered

Where’s the problem?

  • Lions are found in Gujarat across an area of 30,000 sq km called the Asiatic Lion Landscape(ALL).
  • But only 250 sq km of the Gir National Park is the exclusive space for lions while the rest is shared with people, according to the Project Lion proposal.
  • Presently Maldhari and lions coexist in a win-win state where lions get a considerable part of their food from Maldhari livestock and Maldharis profit substantially by free access to forest resources.

Maldharis – Devotees of lions

  • In Gujarati, ‘mal‘  refers to cattle and ‘dhari‘ means owner. So the word Maldhari means owner of cattle stock.
  • Though Maldharis, a community whose members belong to castes such as Bharwad and Rabari - of Gir, Alech and Barda - were included among the Scheduled Tribes since 1956, they are not classified as STs outside those forest areas.
  • Six generations of Maldharis have been living in the Gir and they have refused the government decision to move them out of the forest.
  • The Maldharis earn a living by selling milk and milk products other forest produce in towns.
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