The last bastion of the Asiatic lion, India's national animal

Gir National Park

In a country often called the land of the Tiger, roams another majestic big cat. The Asiatic Lion is the Hawker Hurricane of India’s big cat world, unfairly and perpetually overshadowed by his more glamourous cousin, the Supermarine Spitfire that is the Royal Bengal Tiger. But in this corner of Gujarat, there is no competition for the top spot. This is Lion territory, and the Lion is the undisputed King.

The last bastion of the Asiatic lion, India's national animal

A beautiful hilly but harsh and thorny habitat often compared with the African bushveld, here around 600 majestic lions live along with adversaries including leopards, striped hyenas, jackals and sloth bears.

Humans, in the shape of the local Maldhari tribe are unlikely companions who have found a way to coexist with the lions. These colourful, nomadic tribesmen roam lion country on foot with their cattle without a care, having learned to live alongside lions for millennia with mutual respect.

Despite being a dry region, seven small rivers run through the park and are great places to spot marsh crocodiles and turtles along with aquatic birds. The plentiful avifauna population has more than 300 species of birds. There are six recorded species of vultures alone.

A Conservation Success Story

Asiatic lions once ranged from Asia Minor to the northern plains of India but almost came to the brink of extinction due to a combination of reduced habitat and mindless hunting.

The forest area and its lions were declared as ‘protected’ in the early 1900’s by the then Nawabs of Junagadh, but not before the population had plummeted to only fifteen due to endless trophy hunting.

Today, Gir is a success, and lions have thrived here to such an extent that there are more lions reputedly living outside the park territory than inside it. Some lions have taken up residence around Gujarat’s coastal villages, and can be seen strolling along remote coastlines. Peaceful traditions of the locals have undoubtedly come in handy to minimize human-animal conflicts.

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