Asiatic lion population in Gir forests up fourfold in last five decades: study

The number of Asiatic lions in and around Gujarat’s Gir forests has increased in the last five decades, says an analysis published in India-based Current Science journal


Asiatic lions, which evolved in Europe, are believed to have moved South over millennia, and now survive only in Gujarat in India. Photo: Reuters
Asiatic lions, which evolved in Europe, are believed to have moved South over millennia, and now survive only in Gujarat in India. Photo: Reuters

New Delhi: The lion population in and around the Gir forest in Gujarat has witnessed a fourfold increase in the five decades till 2015, according to a report published in scientific journal Current Science last week. That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news, the report concludes, is that massive infrastructure projects such as railways and high-speed road corridors, as well as industrial, port and mining activities, are beginning to affect the only habitat of the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) and are a major cause of concern for their future.

“During the last five decades (1965–2015), the approach for the Asiatic lion’s conservation is one of the best efforts in the world. Unlike other super predators, the number of lions has increased fourfold and (that of) wild ungulates by over thirteen-fold in the Gir forest,” said the analysis authored by H.S. Singh.

“Expansion and consolidation of the Gir protected area, habitat of the Asiatic lion, and response of prey and predator to the management and dispersion trend of lions outside the Gir forests are interesting and noteworthy. The distribution range of lions has also expanded to a large landscape in four districts in the state,” the report said.

In May 2015, the Gujarat government released its latest lion census figures, which said Gir’s Asiatic lion population had grown around 27%, from 411 in 2010 to 523 in 2015.

Asiatic lions, found only in Gujarat, have been classified as an endangered species.

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The study explained that the Gir wildlife sanctuary, the first protected area (PA) in Gujarat, was established in 1965 to conserve the Asiatic lion. Subsequently, the core area of the sanctuary was declared a national park, while the sanctuary was expanded to cover peripheral forests. The adjoining area, an integral part of the Gir forest in Amreli district, was declared as the Pania sanctuary. The wastelands and community lands around Gir were notified as protected forests. A patch of forest near Gir in Mitiyala, historically known as a lion habitat, was declared a sanctuary for further consolidation of its habitat. In 2007, Girnar, a lion satellite area, was also declared as a sanctuary. Five PAs—Gir national park, Gir sanctuary, Pania sanctuary, Mitiyala sanctuary and Girnar sanctuary—covering 1,621 sq. km, are presently managed as the Asiatic lion’s habitat.

“In two decades (1995-2015), more than 40% of the total number of lions was spotted outside the Gir landscape. The prey population, predation behaviour of the lion and acceptance of the lion as an honourable animal by the villagers indicate that the present trend may continue in the near future as well,” the study added.

However, it expressed concern at the massive pace of infrastructure development.

“The development of industries and ports, mining activities, rails and high-speed roads in the coastal area have already impacted the lions. The increased frequency and speed of goods trains in Pipavav-Rajula line has posed a new threat as 10 lions were killed during 2013-15,” it noted.

“The change in land-use pattern and disappearance of wastelands and community lands are other issues of concern,” the analysis added.

“The increasing population of lions will not sustain in Gujarat in coming years. Not just lion-human conflicts but other problems too, like unnatural deaths and genetic disorders, will surface. Keeping lions only in Gujarat is also against international norms,” said Ajay Dubey, secretary of non-governmental organization Prayatna, which has long campaigned for moving lions out of Gujarat.

The Supreme Court, in an April 2013 order, directed the Union environment ministry to shift some of Gujarat’s lions to the Kuno wildlife sanctuary in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. But the order has not been implemented so far.

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