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Celebrating India’s Asiatic Lions on World Lion Day #worldlionday

World Lion Day celebrates all sub-species of lion, raises worldwide awareness of conservation programs, and brings attention to the threats they face everywhere. Much of the attention is on the African lion, but today we also want to celebrate and appreciate India’s Asiatic lions, and those working to protect them and their habitat.

Asiatic lions, (Panthera leo persica), are one of the seven sub-species of lions in the world. There are a little over 500 of them left.

They live in the Gir National Forest in the state of Gujarat, India, and close to nearby communities in the area. They differ from the African lion in size, (they are slightly smaller). Male manes of Asiatic lions are less full than those of their African counterpart, thus, their ears are more prominent. Males tend to not live with the females of the pride unless they are mating or have a large kill. They are listed as Endangered (very high risk of extinction in the wild) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

 ©ZSL
Male Asiatic lion in the Gir Forest, Gujarat, India ©ZSL

Threats for the Asiatic Lion

With so few Astatic lions left and living in one small part of the Gir, one disease or natural disaster could reduce the population to zero. While these lions are known to only be found in the Gir, they sometimes roam into nearly human habitats. According to Wildlife Conservation Trust of India, there are debates about relocating a small number of the lions to other parts of the country to conserve and boost the lion population.

Bhushan Pandya is a wildlife photographer and conservationist who serves on the Gujarat State Board for Wildlife (SBWL). The SBWL is opposed to a scheme to reintroduce some of the Gir’s lions to a sanctuary in India’s Madhya Pradesh state, he says. “A lion translocation project has been going on at Kuno Palpur Sanctuary in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The SBWL and many other lion-lovers have been opposing it. There was a long legal battle fought in the Honorable Supreme Court of India. The Apex Court on 15th April, 2013, gave a sad and surprising verdict in favour of the translocation. The Wildlife Conservation Trust, Rajkot (WCT) has filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Apex Court praying to reconsider the unfortunate verdict.”

Asiatic lion cubs (c)Bhushan Pandya
Asiatic lion cubs (c)Bhushan Pandya

Opposition to the relocation focuses on the risk of increased poaching, human-lion conflict, a poor wild prey base, and the area earmarked for relocation is a known tiger corridor.

Other threats for the Asiatic lion in general are illegal wildlife trade, speeding vehicles on roads, trains, and open wells.

A male Asiatic lion in Gir forest. image credit: Kishore Kotecha, Wildlife Conservation Trust of India
A male Asiatic lion in Gir forest.
Image credit: Kishore Kotecha, Wildlife Conservation Trust of India

But in Gujarat, the Asiatic lion is considered a symbol of Gurjarati pride, and it is celebrated for bringing tourists to the area to view and admire them.

“Almost all tourists, whether new or regular ones, from all over world come to Gir to see lions in their natural home because Gir and its surrounding areas have been the last home of this majestic species,“explains Bhushan Pandya. “However, tourism has never been the priority over lion conservation. Less than 9 percent of Gir PA is open for tourists.”

Conservation Activities

Asiatic lion conservation programs are managed through a number of agencies, including the Indian government, and Indian wildlife law enforcement. The Zoological Society of London operates training for Gir forest rangers in tracking lions, monitoring pride population, and identifying threats, using GPS devices and other pieces of electronic equipment.  Conservation efforts also take place at the Sakkarbaug Zoo in Gujarat. The veterinarians there play a valuable role in rehabilitating injured lions with a view to releasing them back to the wild. Educational efforts are ongoing with local human populations to help them learn to live with the Asiatic lions in their space.

Conservationist-Julien-Godfrey-training-GFD-Forest-Rangers ©ZSL
ZSL Conservationist Julien Godfrey training GFD Forest Rangers ©ZSL

The Asiatic lions of India are an iconic species, beloved and protected in their range. Like all animals that are cherished though, there are heated debates about conservation and protection.

#worldlionday

Comments

  1. Miss
    UK
    September 20, 1:28 pm

    I feel that the article would be more balanced if further attention had been given to the arguments to relocate Asiatic lions elsewhere. It is vital that a second population is established that is separate to the one in Gujarat. It is not responsible to keep all the members of a species (or, this case sub-species) in one place. An insurance population is needed in case of fire, disease, flood or any other chance disastrous event that could take place any day and wipe out the whole, or nearly all of the whole, population. India must find a way of safeguarding the Asiatic lion via an separate insurance population as a priority.

  2. Rhonda McElhannon
    United States
    September 3, 7:09 am

    I love cats! Thank you for these great articles.

  3. Bhushan Panda
    Rajkot, India
    August 10, 3:51 pm

    Well-worked on article! We, the wildlifers in India and particularly from Gujarat, feel very pleased and highly obliged to learn about the concern and conservation efforts from journalists like you and an organization like ZSL.

    Humans can live anywhere, but wild animals need their habitats to survive. Let us all join hands to conserve their shrinking habitats.

    “We have turned our back on nature, it is high time to go back to nature.”

  4. David Victor
    South Florida
    August 10, 11:43 am

    It’s wonderful these magnificent creatures are finally getting the care and protection they deserve. Let’s do it wisely. Mankind is notorious for striving ahead with the best of intentions but messing it up royally. Let’s protect the few big cats we have left. They make the world a better place in which to live. Thank you, Ms Bryan for your insightful coverage.