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Gir Lion

Gir National Park is popular across the world as the final home for the Asiatic lions. It should be noted that lions were widely distributed in Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia and India. In 1907, when the Nawab of Junagadh found only 13 of the great Asiatic lions left, he granted them full protection in the forest. Officially, these big cats are being protected since then but even then they are threatened to extinction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the Asiatic Lion as “critically endangered”.

These lions are popular since the biblical era and history tells us that they ranged into the far west Europe in the countries like Iran, India, Russia, Pakistan, and Yemen.

When you compare the Asiatic lions to their African cousins, you will note that they have shaggy coats and long tassels at the end of the tail. There is a marked difference between the two lion species and the Asiatic lions have a distinctive fold of skin which runs along their bellies.

The Gir forest is a dry and deciduous land with 30% of teak trees in its fold. This forest is home to hundreds of species of birds and animals that include leopards, and spotted deer.

History

The range of Asiatic Lions in the Indian Sub-Continent extends from the north India to the East in Bihar and finally marking the territory on the river Narmada in the south. At the end of the 19th century the Asiatic lion had become extinct from all the above stated regions excepting Gir. The approximate years of its extinction regionally are Delhi 1834, Bihar 1840, Bhavalpur 1842, Western Aravallis 1880, Eastern Vindhyas and Bundelkhand 1865, Central Indian and Rajasthan 1870. The last lion spotted in Saurashtra was in 1884.

During the beginning of the 20th Century the Nawab of Junagadh revealed the number of lions to be a dozen in Gir. During the famine of 1901 to 1905 these big cats fought to survive in the wild and killed a lot of cattle and human beings. The Nawab supported these big cats and provided them with proper protection. The population of lions in the Gir range increased in the years of 1904 to 1911. After the death of Nawab, approximately 13 to 13 lions were poached annually. The British Administration took over the responsibility of Gir and from 1911 poaching was controlled considerably. According to the reports of the Chief Forest Officer of 1913, approximately 20 lions were left in Gir at that time.

Location

The Gir National Park is located in the south-west peninsula of Saurashtra in the State of Gujarat. This is the only large patch of forest left in the Saurashtra peninsula and is the final home to the Asiatic lions.

Ecology and Behavior

Just like their African cousins, the Asiatic lions too live in prides. The average ride size is normally measured by the number of females in the group. Normally the Gir prides only contain two females and the largest pride is known to have five. The male lions of the pride normally defend their home range that contains one or a group of females. But the Gir lions only associate themselves with the females when mating or if on a large kill. The lesser sociability of the Gir lions explains the case of small prey that is available to them. Chital, weighing only 50 kg is the most sought after prey by the Asiatic lions.

Generally, the lions prefer taking a larger prey that weighs between 190 kg to 550 kg irrespective of the accessibility. Even then you will note that the lions normally take a prey weighing substantially lesser than the requirement, this explains the opportunistic behavior of the species. Within the above stated prey range, they find a prey of 350 kg better. This is a much larger weight than the weight record of the lions themselves. The group hunting activity of these Asiatic lions enable them to handle large preys easily. The success of hunting in lions is mainly determined by the group size and its composition, methodology, time, presence of moon, land, and the supportive environment. According to the history, domestic cattle have been a major prey of the Asiatic lions.

Asiatic Lion Habitat, Distribution and Population

The main habitat of these big cats is the open deciduous forests and a dry scrub bushes land. The Asiatic lions were once found in northern Greece, south-west Asia and North Africa. But, today only 411 of these big cats are surviving in the wild and mostly around the Gir National park and Sanctuary. The first count of these lions in the modern age was completed by Mark Alexander Wynter-Blyth. He was the Principal of Rajkumar College and completed the work from 1948 to 1963. There have been instances of poaching in the Gir forest even though it is a well protected area. These lions were also poisoned for attacking village and cattle. The other threats of unnatural death of these lions include floods, famine, and other natural calamities. But even then Gir National Park remains the only long term reserve for these beauties.        

Threats

As the Asiatic lions reside in a particular sub-population, they are prone to extinction from the unpredictable natural calamities like forest fire, floods etc. The incidents of poaching from this area have also been reported in the recent years. Some reports also claim that organized gangs have switched their attention from the tigers to lions. There were a number of drowning incidents when lions fell into wells.

Food Habits

The normal diet of Asiatic lions includes cattle, wild pigs, deer and antelope in the wild. But in Zoo, these creatures are fed between three to four kg of meat daily. The lions in the Zoo are fed according to their natural behavior in the habitat. They are also fed with heart, chicken and rabbit once a week.

Best Time to Visit

The protected region of Gir National Park remains closed from June to October due to the south-west monsoon in the region. December to March is a good season for visiting this place. Even though April and May are scorching but they are great months for the photography lovers. A proper 3 to 4 day stay at Gir enhances the chance of viewing better wildlife and lions.

How to Reach


By Road

The Gir National Park is well connected by the roadways and national highways. The State Transport buses regularly ply between Junagadh, Sasan Gir, and Veraval at least 4 times every day. The trip lasts for 2 hours usually.

By Train

Gir National Park is well connected by trains and the station’s name is Sasan Gir. It is 50 km from Junagadh and 40 km from Veraval. Slow steam engines run two times daily to Veraval and once to Junagadh.

By Air

Keshod and Rajkot are the nearest airports for Gir National Park and are well connected with the Mumbai airbase.

Accommodation

When making a trip to Gir National Park the best place to stay is at the Taj Lodge which is situated on the banks of Hiran River.

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