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Asiatic Lion

The Asiatic lion, in India, is now found in only one pocket located in the Gir National Park of the state of Gujarat. There have been efforts made to relocate a small number of these lions to another park to try and ensure better survival chances of this majestic animal. However, these plans are yet to be put into action.

The Asiatic Lion grows to a height of approximately 90cm, with their length ranging from 200 - 280cm. Their long and hard tails grow to an additional length of 60 - 90cm. Lions can weigh in at between 200 - 275kgs. Their main prey species consist of Nilgai, Chital, Sambhar, Goats, Buffaloes and occasionally also other smaller animals. The lions of Gir have made it a habit of killing livestock and sometimes even camels.

Their breeding season is timed along with the onset of winter in the months of October and November. Their gestation period is 3 and a half months, with litters ranging between 3 - 4 in number. The lionesses breed on an average of every two years and are ready to have their first lot of babies around the age of 30 - 36 months. They have a life expectancy ranging between 20 - 30 years.

Just like their African cousins, the Asiatic males too have handsome manes, which are absent in the females. The Asiatic lions tend to have smaller manes than their African cousins. The Asiatic lions however have a bushier overall coat and also have longer tufts of hair at the end of the tail and on the elbow joints. The colouration of the manes vary from lion to lion. The only rare ones are the very dark manes, which according to a research done in Africa are the ones prefered by lionesses!

Lions mostly live in large prides. These prides can sometimes have upto 3 adult males but it is always one that is the dominant leader. The males are known for their laziness and lordship like behaviour. The females do all the hunting, with the males only rarely joining in when the prey is a very large animal like an aggressive buffalo. However, once the kill is made, the males always get the first go at the meal.

The bonding among a family of lions is extremely strong with aunts and sisters helping in the bringing up of all young. Females stay with the pride all through life, whereas the males tend to set out on their own around the age of three. They mostly lead solitary lives then onwards but have been known to also roam territories in pairs and trios. These bachelors are known to be the main threats to the dominant males leading their prides. They are also known to kill cubs to try and get the females into estrus once again. These bachelors are mostly brothers that left a pride together but individual bachelors have been known to team up with other individuals.

Lions, unlike the tiger, hunt in groups. They collectively stalk their prey and have been commonly seen applying strategies that would do any army commander proud. Very often some of the females pinpoint a particular individual prey and chase it in the direction of other lionesses waiting in ambush. The prey is mostly killed by a quick, powerful bite to the spine or with the help of a classic choke grip, with the strong jaws of the lion cutting off air supply to the lungs.

The Asiatic Lion has been declared the most endangered large cat species in the world. Their numbers ranging between 250 - 300, all concentrated in the same area, they are under the constant threat of being wiped out by some deadly epidemic. It is hoped by all conservationists that the governing authorities settle their differences of opinion on the best possible plan and take some action before it's too late to save one of the most magnificent beasts to roam the planet.

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 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 aren't 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 don't 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 India's 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 lions' 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 Gir's 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 Nawab's Lion conservation policy was upheld. Naturalists were assigned to study and take a census of the Gir's 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.

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