Haryana government plans to develop lion safari on outskirts of Delhi

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Haryana government plans to develop lion safari on outskirts of Delhi

A high-level meeting on the matter took place recently in Chandigarh under the chairmanship of the State chief secretary with two wildlife conservators of Gurugram range and divisional forest officers.

Do you think lions are fantastic beasts and want to know where to find them? Well, the big cats could soon be wandering with pride on the edge of Delhi. The Haryana government is planning to develop a lion safari in one of three districts on the foothills of the Aravallis- Gurugram, Rewari or Mahendragarh- in a bid to boost tourism, sources told Mail Today on Thursday.

A high-level meeting on the matter took place recently in Chandigarh under the chairmanship of the State chief secretary with two wildlife conservators of Gurugram range and divisional forest officers present, they added. The forest and wildlife officials have been asked to check the feasibility of the project within a radius of 100 km from Delhi.

"The idea is to develop a lion safari similar to Gir forest to attract national and international tourists visiting Delhi. Besides, the Haryana government also wants to develop another breeding space apart from Gir to enhance the animal's numbers," said a senior official of Gurugram wildlife department.

The population of the Asiatic lion, also known as Indian lions, is a subspecies considered endangered since 2008. However, since 2010, the lion population in and around Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat has steadily increased, with a census this month counting 650 individuals in the wild. The official pointed out that the country's two lion safaris at Gir and Etawah are situated at considerable distances from the nearest metropolitan cities -Mumbai and Delhi respectively. So, many visitors who come to these two metros for short periods of time don't go to the treks.

"Such a project requires a peaceful place not far away from Delhi. We have chosen three probable locations in Gurugram, Rewari and Mahendragarh districts for the project, which requires 620 hectares of plains situated close to the bhood (rocky and sandy) area of the Aravallis. Long grassy spaces with tree shade are considered ideal for survival of lions," the official said.

The highly ambitious project is expected to cost around `1,000 crore. Since it is expensive, authorities want to ensure that it is a success, said sources. The Haryana government wants thorough study of Gir and particularly the floundering Etawah safari before finalising the project. While the Gir forest remains popular among tourists, the Etawah project has been mired in controversy after eight lions including three cubs died since it was inaugurated by Uttar Pradesh's erstwhile Samajwadi Party government. The last casualty was an adult lioness named Tapasya.

"A team of wildlife and forest department officials of Haryana will go to Gir forest and Etawah to study in detail the geography, botanical space and atmosphere to ascertain the similarities and differences. The state government does not want any loopholes as survival of lions is key to success of the project," the official said. So far, the country has only one lion breeding space at Gir, which is also the source for the animals in Etawah safari.

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