In Asia, lions once roamed over Mesopotamia, the Middle East, Turkey, and Pakistan. Now Gujarat, India seems to be the only area where Asiatic lions are protected, and thus survive. Highly endangered, only a few hundred are thought to still exist in the wild. These numbers are barely enough to ensure genetic diversification or to survive an outbreak of disease.
Although Gujarat has a long history of Asiatic lion conservation, with Gir Forests Reserve being established in 1913–protected status was not awarded to lions until the inception of Gir Nation Park in 1965.
Originally Gir was part of the private park of the rulers of the area, the Nawabs of Junagadh. Their longsighted vision involved paying a stipend to those whose cattle were predated upon in order to save the livelihood of villagers, and keep the lions from going extinct. The paying of these monies continues.
However, it is a rough road for India concerning Asiatic lions. Humans were resettled away from the park in order to keep lions from attacking their livestock, and allow lion prey species to repopulate the area. Lions, however, do not keep to park boundaries, and when cattle are predated upon by these big cats, humans can retaliate and kill them. As many as 50 percent of Asiatic lions are now thought to exist outside of protected areas.
The areas in the state of Gujarat where Asiatic lions are protected include Mitiyala and Girnar. The Gir Sanctuary, Gir National Park and Pania Sanctuary are about 20,000 km2 (over 7,500 square miles), and form the Gir Conservation Area, or GCA. The Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in the state of Madhya Pradesh–is earmarked by conservationists, but establishing the second Asiatic lion area in India has proved controversial.
Asiatic lions compared to African lions
The most distinctive difference between Asiatic lions compared to African lions is the Asiatic lion’s fold of skin along the abdomen. Males are slightly smaller than African lions at about 160 kg (350 lbs), and are lighter in color. The male lions in India have smaller, dark-colored manes. The Asiatic lion is also thought to have a different skull shape.
Male lions need about 90 square miles (230 km2) in territory, while female prides and their cubs keep to about 30 square miles (85 km2). They mate in October and November, and one to four cubs are born in three to four months. Cubs do not become independent for about two years, once their mothers start mating again.
The diet of Asiatic lions includes sambar and chital deer, water buffalo, and sometimes wild boar or mugger crocodiles. The IUCN has deemed the Asiatic lion to be endangered, and they are included in the IUCN Red List.
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