At first glance that caption might appear a contradiction in terms: lions are never associated with the tearful whimpering. Alas, that is what the last Asiatic lions holding out in the Gir forest in Gujarat have been reduced to.
Not just because 23 of the big cats have died over the last few weeks, but because despite the concerns expressed by the Supreme Court ~ is there no limit to their Lordships having to try and compensate for administrative ineptitude ~ there has been no reaction from the union ministry for environment and forests, and the state government has been wishy-washy.
Critics would conclude that in keeping with its penchant for numbers the government has been so thrilled the lion population has increased that it has ignored the harsher realities of wildlife management. Lions have spread out far beyond the protected forest which has a limited prey-base, are sharing space with domestic canines and cattle, thus picking up infections that they are unable to naturally counter.
In addition villagers have returned to using electrified fences, happily the traditional practice of blind, uncovered wells remains abandoned. But rail and road traffic though the forest continues, particularly to the temples located within the core area of the sanctuary.
The tick-infections may be temporary, medical antidotes found. Yet the larger worry is the false sense of prestige that has come in the way of setting up a second sanctuary to propagate another strain of lions that will help overcome problems associated with in-breeding.
Wildlife experts have been recommending that since 1993, convinced the Supreme Court of the desirability of a second home, a park in Madhya Pradesh had been earmarked, partially cleared ~ but Gujarati Pride had scuttled the plan. Even though the proposed second home was also in a BJP-ruled state.
Many wildlife enthusiasts insist it was Mr Narendra Modi’s fervour when he was Chief Minister that had proved the initial stumbling block, maybe his graduation to national status will result in a more-inclusive re-think. As one expert put it, even if you have plenty of eggs putting them in a single basket is risky ~ what happens if the basket is dropped? It is time for the Prime Minister to appoint a committee of lion specialists, foreign experts included, to formulate\ an apolitical plan for management of the celebrated Gir lions ~ false pride will not suffice for them to prosper, an alarm bell has been rung.
Moving beyond the Gir lion, the present crisis sends out another powerful signal for a separate ministry for wildlife. Other fauna are also in trouble. The existing ministry has too much on its plate to prove effective. Curbing air pollution, conserving beaches, protecting wildlife, tackling climate change etc all demand special attention. No single minister can deliver, least of all a political flyweight.