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.
Panthera leo persica
Major Site : Gir
It is thought that there are approximately 240 Asiatic
lions in existence.
The Lion History
As Indias 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.
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 Nawabs conservation policy was upheld. Naturalists were assigned
to study and take a census of the Girs 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