The Asiatic Lion
Isolated and neglected, the lions at the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in India are in a perilious situation, their numbers dwindling with each passing year. According to The Asiatic Lion, a story published in the June edition of Sanctuary Asia, 17 Asiatic lions (panthera leo persica), were found dead earlier this year in these reserve forests over a period of just 3 months. Recording the statistics, the article has informed us of the various causes leading to these deaths, ranging from poaching to starvation. The carcasses of the lions- males, females, even cubs- in most cases had been stripped of various body parts such as teeth, claws, bones and even skulls.According to the article, the Gir Forest Reserve and its neighbouring areas had been declared protected by the Nawab of Junagadh almost 100 years back. Declared a national forest reserve by the government of India in 1965, the sanctuary had subsequently seen a sharp rise in the lion population over the last few decades. There were 359 lions recorded by the Forest department in a census taken in 2005. Today, the numbers are fast diminishing. Note this:January, 2007: Eight-year-old lion found electrocuted.January, 2007: A male carcass recovered from the Kamleshwar damFebruary, 2007: The carcasses of two lion cubs found in an open well on a farm. ChasedMarch, 2007: The carcasses of two lionesses and one lion on a farm in Babriya range. Body parts missingMarch, 2007: Two lions found dead near Tulshishyam RangeMarch, 2007: A few days later, a seven-year-old lioness was found dead in Jasadhar Range.March, 2007: Mutilated carcasses of two lionesses and a cub found in the Babariya Range. March, 2007: In another incident the carcass of a 3 or 4-year–old lion and a three-month old cub were found. The cub perhaps starved to death.April, 2007: The remains of two adult lions were found in Paitana. There could have been four lions.Various reasons were assigned to the deaths. But one thing was certain. The close proximity of man and beast was the direct or indirect cause for the deaths.Why is the species endangered?The Gir Forest and its surrounding areas happen to be the sole habitat of these great beasts. When an endangered species with alarmingly low numbers is confined to a particular area, the population becomes exposed to what is known as `stochastic’ or unpredictable events.
For instance, the outbreak of a disease can wipe out the entire population at one go. Besides, the lion requires vast forested tracts and a regular supply of healthy prey to sustain it. When it is deprived of such basic necessities, which is what is happening with the Asiatic lion at Gir, forests, it cannot survive. It either dies of starvation or strays outside the protected area making itself vulnerable to danger.In addition to these problems the penetration of both humans and domestic animals into the territory of the lions has inevitably resulted in man-beast conflict resulting in disastrous consequences for both.
SanctuaryAsia has listed certain measures, which if implemented, may perhaps help in protecting these magnificent beasts.1. Provision of alternative forest tracts and the establishment of connecting corridors is imperitive. 2.The sanctuary should be off-limits for any kind of industrial activity3. The field staff be strengthened and well-equipped to check any kind of illegal activities within the perimetres of the reserved area.4. Awareness of the importance of conservation should be spread amongst the locals whose support can prove to be instrumental in protecting the wildlife in that area. 5.Traffic, both vehicular as well as rail should be redirected and not allowed to pass through the forest reserve.6. Revenue earned from tourism, which should be monitored at all costs, should be pumped back into conservation.It is imperitive that these measures are carried out urgently. The survival of an entire species is at stake. It is an appeal to all humanity to protect it. The Asiatic Lion is not just India’s pride but a treasure to be cherished by man and nature alike. Let us save these magnificent beings from becoming an extinct species. If they do, it will be a tragedy of great magnitude, an irreplaceable loss in the cycle of life.