Asiatic lions are seriously endangered. The Indian lion is another name for the Asiatic lion, Panthera leo persica, the sub-species that once ranged from Greece to central India. This animal has played a major role in the symbols and folklore of Indian culture for over 2000 years. The Asiatic lion has long been celebrated as Lord of Beasts, and it became a symbol for human power and kingship. In ancient societies in India, to fight with a lion was regarded as the ultimate test of leadership. This slowly shifted to a somewhat safer, more symbolic gesture of a leader clothing himself in or standing on a lion skin. There were magnificent illustration of lions amongst the statues at Mahabalipuram. The most major use of the lion as a symbol of power and strength was associated with the Emperor Asoka in Sarnath, 2000 years ago. This illustration of a lion eventually became the emblem for the modern Republic of India.
The Asiatic lion was once widespread throughout Southwest Asia. Today the species can only be found in a single location in the wild, the Gir forest in India. Although genetically recognisable from the sub-Saharan African lion, the difference is not large. In fact, the variance is less than that found between different human racial groups. The closeness in genetic make-up between Asiatic and African lions signifies that the two populations separated as recently as 100,000 years ago.
Asiatic lions are slightly smaller than their African cousins, although the largest Asiatic lion on record was an imposing 2.9 m in length. Though they have a less well developed mane, Asiatic lions have thicker elbow tufts and a longer tail tuft.
Key Factors Class : Mammalia Sub-species : Panthera leo persica Major Site : Gir national Park Population : It is thought that there are approximately 240 Asiatic lions in existence.
The Lion History
As India’s population grew and began cultivating or settling more and more of its forest and scrublands, the Asiatic lion was compressed nearly out of existence. In the beginning of this century the Gir Forest area in the state of Gujarat on the west coast was suffered from a terrible famine brought on by a tragic drought, resulting in a devastation. Because of the serious circumstances, the lion population began preying on the human population in the area. This prompted a massive backlash against the lions, resulting in a catastrophic decline in their population. In the year 1910 there were reported to be fewer than two dozen lions left in the wild although it is said that, this low figure may have been publicised to discourage lion hunting - census data from the time indicates the population was probably closer to 100.
Before they were completely wiped out, the lions came under the protection of the Nawab of Junagadh, a local monarch, who banned all lion hunting in the area. Soon, the lion population began to increase in number. By the declaration of Indian independence in the year 1947, the government had come to realise the importance and fragile nature of this last bastion of the Asiatic lion, and the Nawab’s conservation policy was upheld. Naturalists were assigned to study and take a census of the Gir’s lion population. At that time there were around 200 lions.
The Major Site
The Indian government then developed the Gir National Park and Lion Sanctuary - collectively known as the Gir Protected Area (PA), spanning over 1000 sq km. The area consists of dry scrubland with hills, rivers, and teak forest. In addition to the lion population, the Gir PA comprises of leopards, antelope, deer, jackals, hyenas, and marsh crocodiles.
At the present time the Gir national Park and Lion Sanctuary is the only place to see the Asiatic lions in the wild, and the Indian government is very active to do more to make this distinct spectacle visible to tourists and wildlife lovers. Guided jeep safaris through the Gir are offered to observe lions. Because the lions are not afraid of vehicles or people these safaris can offer very close view of the animals. Sometimes lions actually approach and look over a vehicle in their midst.