Located in the western part of India in the state of Gujarat, the forest of Gir is the only place in this entire world where the wild population of Asiatic Lions exists !
Covering an area of about 1400 sq km, Gir National Park is composed of dry deciduous forest combining with thorny vegetation and open patches covered with a variety of grass species. There are about 7 perennial rivers and 4 dams in this forest which help the inhabitants of Gir to survive in the dryer summer months.
Historical range of Asiatic lions was vast, ranging from Turkey, across Asia, to eastern and central India. But due course of ‘development’ led to encroachment on their natural habitat, fragmentation of habitat and the biggest threat was ‘hunting for sport’. Even in India, the rulers of then Indian Princely States used to invite British officers for such ‘hunting parties’. It was only when the alarm was raised by the British viceroys about the massive decline in the population of Asiatic Lions, these activities were banned by the Nawab of Junagarh and emphasis was given to protect them in their natural habitat.
Later, due to the excellent conservation efforts by the forest department, this majestic ‘Big Cat’ species which was on the verge of extinction in the beginning of 19th century is now thriving at Gir. The population of Asiatic Lions based on the census carried out in 2020 is above 600 individuals.
Male Asiatic Lions are slightly smaller than their African cousins but have a larger tail tuft. The males and females can be easily distinguished from each other due to the presence of a ‘mane’ which is present only in males. Due to a shorter mane, the male Asiatic lion’s ears tend to remain visible at all times. The most distinguishing characteristic of the Asiatic lion is the longitudinal fold of skin that runs along its belly.
Lions are the only species among ‘Big Cats’ which live in groups called ‘prides’. Although males are solitary in nature, it has been observed that 2 or 3 adult male lions form a ‘coalition’. This helps them defend their territory from the intruding males and also gives them an advantage while hunting. Their territory or home range may contain one or more female prides. Together they can hold their territory for a longer time as compared to the solitary male lions.
A female may associate with 3 to 4 females forming a stronger pride with their cubs. All the females in a pride help in nursing and upbringing of cubs.
This forest is also a home to another Big Cat – the Indian Leopard. More than 30 species of mammals and 250 species of birds also make Gir their home.
How to reach –
- By air – Rajkot (about 160 km from Gir) is the nearest airport.
- By rail – Veraval (40 km from Gir) and Junagarh (60 km from Gir) are the nearest railway stations.