Tiger deaths have brought their cause to the forefront. But their poor cousins, the Lions are not given a second thought. The total wipe out of tigers from Sariska tiger reserve and falling numbers in Ranthambore Tiger reserve definitely demand attention.
Yet the Lions cannot be ignored. Other than lions in Africa the only other abode of lions in the whole world is Asia. In Asia they exist in Gir (Gujarat) in India.
At the turn of this century, In 1901 The Nawab of Junagadh invited Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India, to his State for hunting in Gir. But a local daily reported that this visit would result in certain damage. So the viceroy asked the Nawab to give
protection to this species, which was fast losing its presence. And this was the beginning of efforts to protect them.
Whereas the tiger is killed for its bones, skin and nails; the lions are being killed for appropriating their protected habitat. The Gir lions are slightly smaller than their African counterparts who have larger manes .The only abode of Asiatic lions is
Gir .The Gir is a dry deciduous forest with savannah grassland ideal place for lions to survive. Due to effort started by the Nawab and also efforts by the State Government, lion population had reached a record height in 2005. This had caused a concern for
officials as this had resulted in lot of in breeding. The genetic disfigurement made the officials realize that there was a need to relocate them. A programme was started to trans locate them in Madhya Pradesh which had similar flora and fauna. But this failed
as the lions were unable to adjust and the resettlement could not continue.
But besides this the lions in Gir were facing more threats in their own sanctuary. A lot of killings have been reported recently. The population of lions had increased from 205 in 1979 to 359 in 2005, but the recent deaths have again drawn attention to the
vulnerability of this last population of Asiatic lions. The sanctuary has not only a road passing through it but there is also a railway line running through it. The lions have started receding to the inner confines of the forests due to all the disturbances.
Another cause of deaths is due to poisoning or electrocuting by local villagers. The villagers graze their cattle in the reserve forests which is strictly lion territory. The domestic livestock is an easy prey. The villagers take revenge by electrocuting or
poisoning or digging wells where lions fall and die.
This negative human intervention if not stopped can be controlled. But now a problem has risen which even man cannot control and that is the intense monsoon. Gir is a dry forest but lately has experienced lot of rains resulting in unrestrained growth of
trees. Lack of sunlight has caused the forest to be humid, making the lions to be susceptible to pneumonia and other infections. Mr. G.A.Patel a member of the
National Wildlife Board of India says that to save the lions they have started to limit the number of trains passing through the sanctuary but the humid weather along with killings by humans is still a deterrent in their efforts.
The lions do not have a shiny coat as beautiful as the tiger or have parts of body, which could fetch a price, but they are part of our rich bio-diversity. They cannot be allowed to go extinct like the Indian Cheetah. The majestic beast called the king of
the jungle is at our mercy. And in spite of not being the prized animal we still are capable of destroying it. We keep forgetting that this earth is not just ours but a place where we live with the rest of species who also play major role in our existence.
( Photograph of a lioness roaming the coastal area of Diu -by Ashima Narain appeared in
Frontline Magazine )