The Last Lions
The Asiatic Lion (Panthera Leo Persica) once roamed from India to Persia, Arabia and Mesopotamia in Central Asia. But by the beginning of the 20th century, they were hunted and killed and became extinct everywhere except in the Gir forest in India. Severe hunting by the royalties and the British pushed the Asiatic Lion to the brink of extinction in India as well, where the last 20 Asiatic Lions were left. Thankfully, the Nawab of Junagadh decided to save the remaining 20 lions in Gir, at that time, his private hunting reserve. From the brink of extinction, the Asiatic Lion has made a remarkable comeback with more than 500 lions roaming in and around Gir forest in India, the last home of the Asiatic Lion.
As compared to the African Lion, the Asiatic Lion is slightly smaller in size, has a shorter and thinner mane in the males and has a distinctive fold on skin along the belly. Also, because of the smaller size of the prey that the Asiatic Lion hunts, their prides are smaller comprising of 2 to 4 females and their young. Males usually only join in to feed and mate.
A lioness will usually give birth to 2 to 3 cubs which she will then nurse, feed and teach hunting prey till they become sub-adults.
Lion cubs are born with spots which fade away as they become adults, although some adult lions may still have them. On becoming sub-adults, females will stay on as a part of the pride whereas males will move out to a different territory.
Male Lions have a characteristic mane, which is very short and light coloured in sub-adults.
Adult male lions display a full dark coloured mane
Lions often sleep through the day and are most active at night.
Male lions are highly territorial and use scent marking to mark their territories. Sometimes, male lions will team up with a brother or even an unrelated male and the two of them will patrol their territory together. Two males can hold a territory for longer, thereby, allowing their cubs to mature, which leads to a good lion population.
Male lions will often roar to display dominance and inform other lions that this is their territory. A lion’s roar can travel several kilometres warning all potential intruders to keep out!
The Asiatic Lion hunts a variety of prey including Nilgai, the largest antelope of India, Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer and the Langur monkey. Domestic cattle also forms a large part of the lion’s diet.
In addition to the herbivores, there are a wide variety of birds and a healthy population of Leopards living with the lions in the Gir forest.
The remarkable success story of the Asiatic Lion from being on the brink of extinction when there were only 20 of them left to today where more than 500 of them roam the forests of Gir freely, is a reminder to mankind that when protected and left in peace, the natural world has great resilience to come back.