Lions have always been considered the kings of the Jungle. But most of the people in the world think that lions are only found in the African continent. People haven't been mislead in this regard, the truth is that there aren't much lions left in the rest of the world. About 10, 000 years ago lions spanned vast sections of the globe, but as the human population started to increase, trees were cut and forests were cleared to make more land for people to live in. Now lions only in small fractions in some parts of the world. And Asiatic lions, a subspecies that split from African lions perhaps 100,000 years ago, are only found in the Gir wildlife Sanctaury of the Indian state of Gujarat.
Gir - The Last Abode Of Asiatic Lions
Gir Widllife Sanctaury is the last refuge of Asiatic lions in India and the lion population residing in the park is a little over 300. The whole coverage area of Gir Sanctuary is about 560-square-mile (1,450-sq-kms). Prey animals are also generally smaller in Gir than they are in Africa, and hunting groups tend to be even smaller. The lions themselves arenít as big as the African lions, and they have shorter manes and a long fold of skin on their undersides that many lions in Africa donít have. In India too, the Lions were spread across Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. History bears witness to the fact that this majestic animal is so deeply etched in our minds that King Ashoka depicted them on his rock pillars around 300 BC. Today Indiaís National Emblem is based on the Lions featured on Ashokan pillars.
Residents of Gir - The Maldharis
Beside the animal residents there people also residing within the Gir sanctuary. More than 2,000 Maldhari tribals live within the sanctuary area, and their livestock make up a third of the lionsí diet. After severe droughts even attacks on people become common as lions enter villages to find food. Still the Maldharis consider this animal, as the lord of the beasts. The state government of Gujarat has persuaded hundreds of tribal families to leave the sanctuary, but people are reluctant to leave.A recent wildlife sanctuary survey reveals that Gir has become a little overcrowded with the lion population and this is becoming a point of concern for farms and factories that surround the park. The Indian wildlife organisation have plans to move some of Girís lions to the KunoWildlife Sanctuary more than 500 miles away. But with the increasing population of India, finding other suitable homes for the endangered species like lion might be difficult.
Saving The Lions
In 1901, the King of Junagadh invited the then Viceroy Lord Curzon to Gir for a hunt. Lord Curzon backed off at the last moment when as if by providence a letter in a local newspaper criticised the damage a Viceroy's visit would cause to a species on the verge of extinction. Wisely, he requested the King to protect the last surviving animals in his territory.
The Total Lion population was around 20 when the Nawab enforced a ban on hunting. This move resulted as the first conservation effort for the continuous well being of the Lions.After India got its independence from the British rule in 1947, the government had come to realise the importance and fragile nature of this last bastion of the Asiatic lion, and the Nawabís Lion conservation policy was upheld. Naturalists were assigned to study and take a census of the Girís lion population, which at that time was around 200 lions.The Indian government then created the Gir National Park and Lion Sanctuary - collectively known as the Gir Protected Area (PA), covering over 1,000-sq-kms. The sanctuary area is made up of dry scrubland with hills, rivers, and teak forest. In addition to the lion population, the wildlife attractions of Gir PA includes Leopards, Antelopes, Deer, Jackals, Hyenas, and Marsh Crocodiles.Kings and rulers of India have always used Lion as a powerful symbol of their leadership. Even if conservation was not exactly their main motive, but the association between the beast and ruler has helped in saving the Asiatic lion from extinction. If Nawab of Junagardh hasn't taken the initiative, the Gir Lions would most likely have disappeared by now. What came of his conservation effort, are the 300 lions that today live in and around the Gir Forest.