Conservation Africa News –
BHOPAL: While we wait for Gir lions to be shifted to Madhya Pradesh, why not get some giraffes from Africa? The MP forest department had earlier already proposed reintroducing cheetahs from Africa in the Kuno-Palpur wildlife sanctuary, which has already been prepped for shifting of Asiatic lions from Gujarat.
Now, Mohan Meena, director of Madhya Pradesh lions reintroduction project and a senior IFS officer, has recommended to the state wildlife headquarters the translocation of giraffes to Kuno.
MP forest officials said giraffe translocation has not been attempted anywhere in the world. Kuno, in Sheopur district, would be ideal to let giraffes roam wild in India, according to Meena. In a letter to his superiors, the IFS officer said: “There are several species of trees, 3 to 10 metres tall, in Kuno Palpur that are suitable for browsing herbivores like the giraffe. In the past, this niche was probably occupied by camels. It can be filled today by a herbivore species like the giraffe. If we can introduce 5 to 7 giraffes in Kuno, they will naturally fit in the ecosystem and it will be an attraction and pride for the park”.
Several species of tall trees at Kuno-Palpur wildlife sanctuary make it ideal for herbivores like giraffes, says Mohan Meena, in-charge of the MP lions project
India has around 30 giraffes in 11 zoos in cities such as Kolkata, Mysore and Pune. The massive giraffe enclosure at Alipore Zoo in Kolkata draws the largest crowds. There is no record of when giraffes were brought to India but sculptures exist in temples, including the 13th century Sun Temple in Konark, Odisha.
The proposal to translocate giraffes to India comes at a time when its population in Africa has declined by almost 40% over the past three decades and it’s listed as a ‘vulnerable’ species.
The earliest possible evidence in stone of a giraffe can be seen at the Sun temple at Konark, Odisha (1238–1258AD)
“From my own experience at Kruger National Park in South Africa, where giraffes co-exist with lions and cheetahs, I recommend their introduction in Kuno Palpur. Since we plan to eventually introduce lions and cheetahs in the park, the introduction of giraffes will not have any adverse effect on the ecosystem,” Meena wrote.
“If camels can survive around here, then giraffes can, too. Besides, there is no poaching threat and no one would eat them here,” Meena told TOI.
Madhya Pradesh’s wait for the Gir lions, meanwhile, continues despite a Supreme Court order. The relocation was first mooted in 2000, but never went through because Gujarat steadfastly refused to part with the majestic lions. It is the only lion state in India.
The giraffe enclosure is popular at Kolkata’s Alipore Zoo
Conservationists point out that diversifying the lions’ habitat is necessary to ensure that no natural, viral or manmade calamity wipes out the entire population of Gir’s lions. On April 15, 2013, the Supreme Court resolved the issue in favour of relocation. “I haven’t come across such reluctance to comply with a Supreme Court ruling as in this case. I have moved a contempt petition on this. Gujarat has no option but to sending their pride of Gir here,” said environmentalist Ajay Dubey.
Besides the Gir lion, the MP government has been discussing several alternatives for Kuno, ranging from shifting of zoo-bred lions to translocation of cheetahs and reintroduction of tigers. Giraffe is now on that list. A mini-Africa in the works in the heart of central India.
‘Giraffes unlikely to adapt to Indian ecology’
How feasible is the idea to translocate giraffes to India? TOI spoke to Thane-based conservationist Tushar Kulkarni, who is conducting genetic research on giraffes in Indian zoos, and has been invited to speak abroad on his findings. Excerpts.
Q: Did a species similar to giraffe ever exist in India?
Giraffes are native to Sub-Saharan Africa. Ancestors of giraffes, like Bramatherium and Sivatherium, lived on the Indian subcontinent about 2.5 to 6 million years ago. Giraffes are found in the wild only in Sub-Saharan Africa. Okapi, the closest relative of giraffe, is found in the wild in Democratic Republic of Congo.
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Do you think giraffes can be introduced in India as a browsing herbivore species?
To my knowledge, giraffes have never been introduced in the wild in any country. They are native to Africa and have evolved to adapt to its habitat, food and terrain. We are not sure if the giraffe will adapt to the Indian habitat, vegetation and environment. India has a different ecological setup. Mostly likely, they cannot adapt.
What do you think would be the fate of such a reintroduction project?
We do not know. The giraffe has adapted to survive and thrive in a completely different habitat and environment. There are high chances it won’t survive in the Indian environment.
Is there a suitable habitat for giraffes anywhere in India?
Again, we do not know the suitability of habitat of India for giraffes. There has been no study or research that I know of.
Are there large carnivore species that can prey on giraffes if introduced in India?
It’s possible that carnivores can prey on giraffes, but they are mega fauna and not easy to hunt. Carnivores normally try to hunt giraffe calves.
Do international laws allow such introductions?
I am not aware of any international laws on this. Giraffes are translocated within Africa to repopulate areas where they have gone extinct, and to maintain or enhance the genetic diversity of giraffe in a particular area. To my knowledge, giraffe has never been introduced in the wild in any other country.
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