The pair of lions that were brought from Gujarat and released in SGNP last December. Pic/Sameer Markande
If everything goes as per the plans, then soon Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) will get a pair of Asiatic Lions for its captive lion safari from Gujarat in exchange for a pair of Royal Bengal Tigers. The state forest department has given its consent for the same and has informed about the same to the Central Zoo Authority (CZA).
An official from the Maharashtra forest department said, "In the first week of November we have sent a letter to the member secretary, Central Zoo Authority, New Delhi, regarding the consent for exchange of animals between Sanjay Gandhi Zoological Park and Sakkarbaug Zoo, Junagadh, Gujarat. As per the proposal, SGNP will give a breeding pair of Bengal Tigers, to Sakkarbaug Zoological Park, Junagadh, in exchange for a breeding pair of Asiatic Lions."
The Maharashtra forest department has requested CZA to accord prior permission to the said proposal as per the provisions under Sec. 38 1 (1) of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. It may be noted that Dr V Clement Ben, additional principal chief conservator of forests, western wildlife region, Mumbai and SGNP director and conservator of forests G Mallikarjun have played an important role in this entire process.
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In the last week of November 2022, a pair of captive breeding lions had arrived at SGNP-Mumbai from Sakkarbaug Zoological Park in Junagadh, Gujarat. When the pair of the lions was brought to SGNP, the captive safari had only one lion left but it too died last week. In the month of October 2022, Ravindar, the oldest lion at SGNP had died due to age-related disease. The pair of lions that was brought to SGNP from Gujarat was three years old and initially they were kept in isolation and later released in the captive safari area.
The captive lion safari was started in SGNP in 1975-76 and it has been an important tourist attraction, helping to generate revenue for the park. The lions in the safari were born to Asian and African lions rescued from circuses. The central zoo authority has directed not to let mating happen among the Asian and African lions in captivity, because of which the population of the captive lions in the SGNP did not increase.
For many years, SGNP authorities have been trying to bring a pair of breeding lions from Gujarat for its captive lion safari. During the MVA government, the then environment minister Aaditya Thackeray, too, had instructed the SGNP authorities to initiate the process of getting captive lions from Gujarat to SGNP.
In September 2022, Maharashtra forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar met with his Gujarat counterpart Jagdish Vishwakarma in Ahmedabad and discussed the exchange of two Asiatic lions from Sakkarbaug Zoological Park in Junagadh for a pair of captive tigers from the SGNP. They decided to seek joint approval from the Central Zoo Authority for the same. In September 2020, the SGNP also approached the Telangana forest department for a pair of lions from Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad. However, there was no development, as the Telangana forest department wanted lions in exchange for lions.
The captive tiger and lion safari at SGNP, one of the most-visited national parks in the country, was started in the 1990s and since then has been an important tourist attraction. During the safari, visitors are ferried in mini buses into an area that is fenced from all sides.