¤ Great Habitat of Asiatic Lions
Amidst the vast arid landscape that dominates the state of Gujarat, towards the tip of the Saurashtra Peninsula, lies a wildlife oasis that has a pool of biodiversity the rest of the world has lost a long time ago.
This 1,412sq km reserve, with a core zone of 260sq km, is home to the last 300 Asiatic Lions (Panthera leo persica) left on the planet. Once this majestic animal was found all over Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia and India. But the royal families’ insatiable desire to kill and to ‘decorate’ the walls of their palaces with stuffed ‘trophies’ led to a near wipeout of the species from the jungles that cover this stretch.
¤ Shikar Obsession of Royal Court
The obsession for shikar,or hunt intensified with the advent of the British. One can see hundreds of photographs with big game like lions or tigers lying dead in the foreground, and a team of shikaris, or hunters standing proudly behind it brandishing as many as 30 guns. The kind of havoc these shikar parties have wreaked in the jungles is just unbelievable. A British officer of the India cavalry, who was posted in the princely state of Kathiawar for three years, shot more than 80 lions. Another British officer killed 14 lions during his ten-day visit to the Gir forest. and the number of ungulates and birds that must have fallen to the guns of the British, is anyone’s guess.
¤ Hunting- A Royal Treat
In fact, once upon a time, hunting in Gir was a privilege. Dignitaries such as viceroys and princes of the Indian states were formally invited to ‘enjoy’ a shikar of the lion by the Nawab of Junagadh. and sure enough, people craved to be royal guests at Junagadh as this ‘election’ was considered a matter of great pride and honour.
Things however changed for the better by the end of 18th century when worried over the rapidly-dwindling population of lions, Lord Curzon declined the invitation to hunt and requested the Nawab to take steps to conserve the species. It is believed that just 20 lions were left in the jungles of Gir at the time. Immediately after this, the Nawab imposed a ban on the shooting of lions. But he retained the rights to allow royal guests to shoot a few animals every year. However, the people of Junagadh, and ironically so at the behest of the Nawab, left no stone unturned to conserve the species.
¤ Government Completely Banned Hunting
By 1911, the wildlife population in the jungles of Gir had risen commendably. In the 1950’s, hunting lions was totally banned. Since then, the area has seen a constant rise in the lion population. Today the total count of lions at Gir National Park stands at about 300.
¤ The Charm of Sighting The Great Asiatic Lions
The Asiatic Lion is a smaller species than its cousin in Africa. Standing at 90 centimetres at the shoulder, the Asiatic Lion can weigh anything between 200-250 kg. It is 8-9 ft in length, the tail itself measuring about 60-90 cm. It has a much longer mane and tail tuft than the African Lion. The elbows are also larger and the coat thinner. But what sets it apart it from its cousin in Africa is the distinctive fold on its belly.
Unlike most members of the felidae family, adult lions live in pairs. Normally, the association is long lasting. It is not unusual to come across a family of a lion, lioness and three to four cubs under a shady tree or near a water hole in the Gir. The family relaxes by the day and hunts when the sun touches the horizon. Hunting is a family affair. The pride drives and isolates its quarry from the herd before bringing it down. Eating is again get-together time, with the family members assembled all around the kill, munching their favourite parts.
The Asiatic Lion’s prey includes the nilgai, chital, sambar and almost all ungulates it could lay its paws upon, including goats, buffaloes and camels that belong to the Maldharis and Rabaris tribes living on the peripheries of the Park.
¤ Other Attractions of Gir National Park
Apart from lions, Gir has a considerable population of leopards. According to a census conducted in1995, the Park has a total of 294 leopards, making Gir the best place in India to watch the big cats. But this also makes the Park a bit cramped for enough space to accommodate all the big cats.
The logical fallout has been more and more attacks on the villagers (and their livestock) living on the peripheries of the sanctuary.
Unfortunately, the Park doesn’t support an adequate number of prey species. The 1995 census indicates that the area has total of 772 sambars, 10,446 chitals, 2,081 nilgais, 311 chinkaras, 2,212 wild boars and 6,912 langurs for a population of more than 600 big cats. Consequently, almost everyday there are incidences of cattle-lifting. In fact, the lions have become so daring that sometimes they lift cattle from the homes of the villagers.
¤ Fascinating Aerial Population
The Park is also rich in birdlife. The most commonly found birds are the Paradise flycatcher, fish owl, black vulture, shaheen falcon, crested serpent eagle, Bonelli’s eagle, crested swift, pied wood-pecker, gray drongo, cuckoo shrike, painted sandgrouse, gray partridge and the white-neck stork.
¤ Reptile Population
More than 25 species of reptiles have been identified in the Park. Marsh crocodiles can be seen in the rivers that run across its length. There is a Crocodile Rearing Centre in Sasan, where one can see crocodiles measuring a few centimetres to a metre.
The best way to observe the wildlife in Gir is by driving through the most popular and promising trails during early mornings and late evenings. A good reliable car (although nothing can match a jeep) can take you from Sasan to Bhawal Chowk, Kankai, Chodavdi Tulsishyam and Kamaleshwar Dam.
Monday, August 20, 2007
¤ Great Habitat of Asiatic Lions