Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary or Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary lies in the Sheopur district of north western Madhya Pradesh, a state in central India. It is about 120 kilometres from Gwalior.
An area of 344.686 square kilometres was set aside as a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1981. Since then this has been elevated to the Kuno Wildlife Division with an additional area of 900 square kilometres as a buffer area around the Sanctuary. The park is home to many species of wild animals including wolves, monkeys, leopards and nilgai and possibly a few remaining Bengal Tigers.
Wildlife Institute of India researchers confirmed that the Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary is the most promising location to re-establish a free ranging population of the Asiatic lions and certified it ready to receive its first batch of translocated lions from Gir Wildlife Sanctuary where they are highly overpopulated. There are large scale deaths in the population annually because of ever increasing competition due to animal overcrowding. Asiatic lion prides require large territories but there is limited space at Gir wildlife sanctuary, which is boxed in on all sides by heavy human habitation.
The Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary was selected as the reintroduction site for critically endangered Asiatic lion because it is in the former range of the lions before it was hunted into extinction in about 1873. It was selected following stringent international criteria and internationally accepted requirements & guidelines developed by IUCN/SSC Reintroduction Specialist Group and IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group which are followed before any reintroduction attempt anywhere in the world.
Currently the Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project is underway. The lions are to be reintroduced from Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in the neighboring Indian state of Gujarat where they are currently overpopulated. This has involved the displacement of twenty four villages of the Sahariya tribe, which had lived in the remote core area set aside for the reintroduction of the Asiatic lions, who agreed to move out.
As the state government of Gujarat is refusing to let go of its monopoly of wild Asiatic Lions which are not found elsewhere, for the time being Central Government of India plans to acquire Zoo-bred pure breed Asiatic lions from Hyderabad, Bhopal and Delhi Zoos and soft release their third generation after captive breeding in a large enclosure at Kuno wildlife sanctuary with wild prey. The State Government of Gujarat rejects the idea of Kuno being an alternate habitat for the Asiatic lion and comments that since Kuno Palpur sanctuary has had some tigers, it’s not advisable to shift Gir lions there, as there are bound to be frequent clashes between the two kings over territories and as per them it has been observed that tigers and lions can never co-exist. This statement is challenged by historical records and scientists around the world, Lions and Tigers have shared the same habitat from Persia (Iran) to India all through history before they became extinct by over hunting and habitat conversion to agriculture.
Feral cattle also roam the sanctuary, left behind by the relocated Sahariya tribal herders. The cattle are intended to serve as buffer prey for Asiatic Lions until wild prey populations are revived.