Chat Archives
Chat on "Asiatic Lion" dated March 18, 2004

    Susan  Welcome to IWC chat on Asiatic Lion! 

    nature8  so whts todays topic, I'm Sarit. 

    Susan  The expert online is Dr Ravi Chellam who will join us soon. Welcome Sarit

    Sharad  Hi I am sharad

    ravic  I am online hope to discuss issues related to the ecology and conservation of Asiatic lions. 

    Susan  Dr Chellam is currently with UNDP. Previously he was with WII, DehraDun 

    Susan  Welcom Dr. Chellam! 

    ravic  Hi Susan, Sharad and Sarit. 

    Sharad  Lets start with where they are found in India 

    ravic  Gir forest Saurashtra, Gujarat.  This is the only free ranging population of Asiatic lions in the world. 

    ravic  Current population estimate is more than 320 lions, adults and young.

    Sharad  Has it increased in last 5 years or reduced

    Susan  Is that no. considered genetically viable? 

    shyamsundar  hi this is shyam

    ravic  The lions in Gir had a close brush with extinction a little more than 100 years ago.

    shyamsundar  so wht what shall we start with

    ravic  The lowest reported population is about 12.

    Susan  Welcome Shyam 

    ravic  The population has been increasing in general but I do not pay too much attention to the exact numbers.   It is more important to look at the trend of the population, which has been increasing. 

    shyamsundar  In 1910 there were reported to be fewer than two dozen lions left in the wild although this low figure may have been publicised to discourage lion hunting - census data from the time indicates the population was probably closer to 100. 

    Sharad  that is right 

    shyamsundar  Before they were completely wiped out, the lions came under the protection of the Nawab of Junagadh.  He banned hunting.

    ravic  In fact today the managment in Gujarat has to learn to manage the success of conservation.  Sharad and Shyam it is important to take into account that counting lions or tigers or wildlife in general is not an easy task. 

    shyamsundar  yeah u r right 

    ravic  Since the 1970s all population estimates have indicated a constantly increasing lion population. 

    Sharad  I agree.

    shyamsundar  so ravi wht do u say should be actually done to go for better estimates

    Sharad  What is the typical survival age ?

    shyamsundar  hey friends here i have something abt how census started 

    ravic  Use of acceptable scientific methods, constant monitoring, a transparent process of data collection and analysis. 

    shyamsundar  The first census of lions in the Gir was conducted in 1936 and yielded a result of 234 animals, based on identification of individual paw prints (pug marks). 

    Sarit  hello sorry i gotd/c 

    shyamsundar  other recent techniques are live bait and waterhole counts  Radio-telemetry studies

    Sarit  good evenin' Dr. Ravi 

    ravic  Good evening Sarit. 

    ravic  Reverting to Susan's question on genetic viability.. 

    Sarit  Dr. Ravi let me tell you i had seen one of your programme in NGC and i know u have worked a lot on lions 

    ravic  The lions in Gir have gone through a genetic bottleneck when their numbers went down to less than 50 adults.  

    shyamsundar  genetic viability?

    Sarit  i was fortunate to be apart of Tiger Census 2004 in Orissa and i realized how tough it is?

    shyamsundar  oh that must be really a wonderful experience Sarit 

    Sarit  Acha Dr.Ravi what about the transfering of Lions to Kuno in Mp  how far is it viable 

    ravic  In my experience with lions since 1986, I have seen no evidence of any ill effects of the genetic bottleneck on the lions. 

    shyamsundar  Sarit for ur question the state government has sought the Centre’s permission to set up a new lion sanctuary at Mithiyala in Amreli district to provide more protection to the Asiatic lions.

    Sarit  So in your opinion what wud b the best method to revive the nos of lions in India 

    ravic  There is some evidence from the study of captive asiatic lions (which are far more inbred) that they have a greater percentage of deformed sperms. 

    ravic  The Mithiyala sanctuary has been established but it cannot substitute the need for a second free ranging population of lions.  This is because the area is very small and it is also located very close to Gir.  

    Sarit  Well is it possible to crossbred the Asiatic lions with their African cousins?

    shyamsundar  Ravi wht do u want to say about the poaching and death of Seventy lions including 20 cubs in Gir 

    Sharad  has the physical dymentions/ looks changed due to deformed sperms 

    Sarit  Dr. Rai i had read about Kuno how far is it true? 

    ravic  It is very much possible to cross breed African and Asiatic lions but highly undesirable to do so.

    shyamsundar  Ravi wht abt the water scarcity forests of Gir national park   

    ravic  There is absolutely no anatomical or morphological evidence of inbreeding. 

    Sarit  well may b tht crossbreeing will result in loosing the original lines 

    shyamsundar  Ravi why is it undesirable to cross breed African and Asiatic is there any problem 

    ravic  One thing all of us should remember is that all lions, why only lions all creatures including us are born to die. 

    ravic  What is important is the circumstances of death and the life stage of mortality. 

    ravic  By cross breeding we are playing GOD. 

    ravic  Deliberate mixing of gene pools of wildlife is not an acceptable way of managing them. 

    shyamsundar  yes definitely Mr Ravi however wht we should do i think is to provide for a better environment and habitat for them 

    Sarit  But then Dr. Ravi are we not doing that with domestic animals, crops 

    ravic  Lions in captivity will live more than 25 years. 

    ravic  That is the difference between domesticated life and wildlife.

    shyamsundar  but continuous inbreeding has many problems 

    Sarit  but then if we can save a species from completely being wiped out don't u think its worth givin' a try 

    ravic  In the wild male lions will with luck live up to the age of 15 and lionesses till about 18. 

    Sarit  bcoz as u said they will otherwise die of inbreeding 

    ravic  As I have said earlier there is absolutely no evidence that there are any ill effects of the inbreeding.

    shyamsundar  Paignton Zoo is celebrating the birth of two cubs - one male and one female - on 3rd October 2003 

    ravic  Over time they seem to have recovered from the effects of the genetic bottleneck. 

    ravic  What do you want to know about radio telemetry? 

    shyamsundar  wht u have to say about this--There is illegal mining and poaching in the coastal districts to which some of the animals have migrated as the prey base goes up in these parts 

    ravic  Translocation is an effort to overcome the risks of a situation of all your eggs in one basket. 

    shyamsundar  but then in Humans it is clearly told that we should avoid close relation marriages and that i have studied it is true for all animals as well 

    Sarit  Well Dr. Ravi we will b gr8ful if u throw some light on radio telemetry 

    ravic  The lions leaving the confines of the protected area is not due to the movement of the prey but due to the increasing lion population. 

    ravic  Lion social organisation does not allow breeding of close relatives. 

    shyamsundar  Radio-telemetry studies help us know the range in which the lions live that is their home range which is generally for male lions at 110 km², and females at 50 km² 

    ravic  Lions are territorial and with increase in numbers the area of the PA is insufficient to hold all the lions. 

    ravic  In India as in all over the world, wildlife and nature conservation is a huge challenge. 

    shyamsundar  we can also know the population density 

    ravic  I conducted radio telemetry studies in Gir from 1987 to 1990.  I collared 8 lions.

    ravic  I was able to establish the details of their home range size, habitat use patterns and social organisation. 

    ravic  WII has been conducting follow up studies and we have had collared lions over the last 4 years or so. 

    shyamsundar  oh that must be really a exciting job 

    Sarit  so u collared 8 lions do tell more about it  

    ravic  Currently there is a student who is conducting field work on the dispersal and survival of lions. 

    ravic  Getting back to translocation.. It is like buying life insurance against extinction.  

    shyamsundar  Mr.Ravi can i please get ur mail id 

    Sarit  Sir will u please give your mail id as i want to know more about this field

    ravic  We did a survey of potential sites in 1993-95 and chose Kuno in western MP

    Sarit  i had been to the WII twice but 4 some reason i was not able 2 join the course

    ravic  rchellam61@yahoo.co.uk but please be patient with me.

    Sarit  yes i had read about your reasearch 

    Sarit  ok sir we will thank you very much 

    shyamsundar  oh definetely   

    ravic  Since 1996 the MP forest dept has been managing Kuno to prepare it for the lions. 

    shyamsundar  is it ur yahoo chat id too 

    ravic  The problem has been the low numbers of wild prey.

    ravic  Yes it is my only Yahoo ID. 

    Sarit  sir u mean to say lower nos. of prey base at Kuno

    shyamsundar  then how do they manage to get enough to eat in such situations

    ravic  Things have been moving slowly but in a recent meeting Govt of India has taken note of the need to move things quickly.   

    shyamsundar  thank you sir 

    ravic  Lack of prey has delayed the translocation of lions. 

    Sarit  well there was even a try to transfer lions to Chandraprabha sanctuary in Varanasi  

    ravic  Yes low prey numbers in Kuno.  

    ravic  In the 1950s and 1960s the Chandraprabha effort failed due to lack of planning and monitoring. 

    shyamsundar  Well how do they actually transfer the lions from one place to other 

    Sarit  so is there any plans to improve the prey base 

    ravic  The effort succeeded to the limited extent that the lions survived for a few years and also bred and increased their numbers. 

    shyamsundar  will there not arise any problem 

    ravic  Dart and transquilise the lions and then quickly transport them either by road or helicopter.

    ravic  To improve prey base we need total protection from cattle grazing and poaching

    ravic  An additional way is to kick start the revival by releasing more prey animals captured from other forest or from zoos. 

    shyamsundar  like will there be no problem when they are left in a new place because lions mark their territory so sudden change in the place they live ---will it not cause any disturbance

    ravic  Getting back to the question of water scarcity.. 

    ravic  Gir is a dry forest in the semi arid zone 

    Sarit  but then sir i had been to a very few sanctuaries and i find this cattle grazing to be the biggest problem 

    ravic  Plants and animals are naturally adapted to dry and low water situations.

    ravic  Lions in Africa live in Kalahari desert and extend into the rainforest of western and central Africa.     

    shyamsundar  ok Mr.Ravi but then if we can take up both the revival of the greenery and simultaneously release new prey animals i think would be the best combination 

    ravic  So they are very adaptable as a species. 

    ravic  There is no need to revive the greenery in Kuno, the forest cover is good.  

    shyamsundar  ok then the Asiatic is not that adaptive? 

    ravic  Getting back to translocation.. 

    Sarit  yes sir plese throw some light on translocation 

    ravic  The distribution of the Asiatic lions extended from Syria all the way to eastern India. 

    ravic  They are also capable of adaptation but humans should first allow them to survive. 

    Sarit  now i guess Asiatic lions are only found in India 

    ravic  On their arrival in Kuno the lions will first be released into a large enclosure and they will be there for 6 to 8 weeks.

    shyamsundar  Sarit i dont think so 

    ravic  This will enable them to adapt to the local conditions and also develop a mental geography of the place.  

    ravic  Yes only in and around Gir. 

    shyamsundar  now it is more clear sir 

    ravic  They should not be kept in captivity for longer as they will then begin to lose their natural instincts. 

    Sarit  so when will te lions be finally translocated to Kuno 

    ravic  Difficult to say. It depends on how fast the local conditions in Kuno are ready to host the lions. 

    shyamsundar  that is really interesting so we have to take a lot of care in this process 

    ravic  Then there is of course the issue of the people and govt of Gujarat being willing to part with some lions. 

    Sarit  But then as a scientist u can give a probable time 

    Sarit  lets a in next five yrs or before that 

    ravic  I can give a time but it will have no meaning. Ideally this should be done within the next 5 years. 

    ravic  Are Sharad, Susan and Nature8 still online? Why no comments? 

    Sarit  well nature8 is myself 

    Susan  Yes, I am following the discussions and learning a lot 

    Sarit  but then Sharad and susan shud respond 

    ravic  Any more queries? 

    shyamsundar  sir did u have any special experience while working with lions that u will remember always 

    Sarit  well there are many and we are really fortunate to have a platform to talk to u 

    Sarit  yes if you have any such which you wud like to share 

    ravic  Plenty of memorable experiences. Gir is a very special place and the lions are incredible animals. 

    ravic  In fact each time I go to Gir there are great experiences, too many to be able to write in this format. 

    Sarit  Sir as we have your mail id we will ask our queries and hope u'll answer 

    shyamsundar  one incident that u think was really the best 

    ravic  It was among my early field days and around December I got information that a big sambar had been killed and there were two females and cubs and since the  sambar was a large one I thought I could continue observations for two or three days. The first night was okay but at the end of the second night at  around two o clock I had fallen asleep in my sleeping bag with my back to a Jamun tree. And on the opposite sloping bank the lions were feeding. Next   thing I know is that I have woken up at four for thirty with something heavy on my feet and there was a lion cub sitting heavily on my toes. I tried  wriggled my toes in an attempt and trying to make it get off without irritating it. Luckily  that worked. I have a picture taken with a flash of the cub using a normal lens! This is not to in  any way convey that lions are docile creatures. They are  wild animals and this is something that always needs to be kept in mind.

    shyamsundar  oh that is really .......i dont have words to say.....U R LUCKY to have such experiences 

    Susan  Ravi, it has been a great session! 

    shyamsundar  thank you sir for all that u have shared with us 

    ravic  As I said special place and very special animals. 

    Sarit  wow sir its an excellent story that you shared with us 

    ravic  Thank you all and do I log off now? 

    Sarit  sir we hope that you will keep in touch and respond our mails 

    Susan  Thank you all of you . Yes we can log off now. 

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