Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gir National Park



Only place in the world where you can see the Asiatic Lion in the wild


The only place in the World where you can see the Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica) in its natural habitat today is the Gir Forest located in Junagarh district in the State of Gujarat in Western India.
The Asiatic Lion
Until a hundred years ago, the majestic Asiatic Lion roamed over large areas extending from Greece, through West Asia, Delhi, Bihar and Bengal.
Just to give you an idea of the large numbers - fifty lions were killed in the district of Delhi between 1856-1858.
But the killing took its toll.
The last Asiatic Lion seen outside Gir Forest in India was in 1884.

Of course, lions can be seen in plenty in Africa.
But they are not the Asiatic Lion, but their close relative, the African Lion.
The Asiatic Lion is a genetically distinct sub-species that separated from the African population of Panthera leo about 100,000 years ago.

The Asiatic Lion has an average length of 2.75 metres.
Compared to its African counterpart, it is about 0.3 meter shorter, has a lighter mane, thicker tail tassel, bushier elbow tufts and more prominent belly folds.
The Asiatic Lion avoids human beings.
It can jump over 5 metres.
Of all the wild animals, it is the only animal which kills only when
hungry and attacks humans only if it is starving.
Unlike its African cousin, the Asiatic Lion never feeds on carrion.
It is the truly the king of the wild.

On the brink of extinction - role of the Nawab of Junagadh

Since 1884, all the Asiatic Lions are localized in Gir Forest, the private hunting preserve of the Nawab of Junagadh.
The famine of 1899 almost decimated the lions.
In 1900, the Nawab of Junagadh invited Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of India, for a lion hunt.
This invitation provoked an anonymous letter in a newspaper in which the writer questioned the propriety of a VIP hunt of the endangered species.
Lord Curzon not only cancelled the hunt, but also requested the Nawab to protect the endangered lions.
The Nawab in turn declared the lion a protected animal.

By 1913, the population of lions in Gir Forest had dwindled to less than twenty.
As a protective measure, the British Government imposed a total ban on the shooting of lions.
The number of lions gradually increased.
By 1949, the number of Lions in Gir Forest rose to about 100.
Gir National Park

The Goverment of India established the Gir National Park on 18th September, 1965 as a Forest Reserve to conserve the Asiatic Lion.
The original area of the Gir Forest was about 5000 sq. kms.
Today, the sanctuary covers a total area of 1,412 sq. kms. of which the core area of 258.71 sq. kms. is the Gir National Park.
There is a surrounding buffer zone to monitor and regulate the spill over.

Present Status

There are about 320 Asiatic Lions in the Gir National Park today.
There were 13 poaching deaths during the first quarter of 2007 raising serious concerns about the safety and future of the species.
Occasionally, the lions travel outside the park boundaries in search of food and water, get caught in poachers’ traps and die.
Other animals in Gir Forest
There are other animals like Flying Fox, Hare, Hyena, Hedgehog, Jackal, CheetalChinkara , Chowsinga (four-horned antelope), Civet, Mongoose, Musk Shrew, Nilgai (Blue Bull), Pangolin, Panther, Porcupine, Ratel, Sambar, Wild boar, etc.
Three smaller wild cats - the Jungle Cat, Desert Cat and the Rusty Spotted Cat are also found there.
There are many species of snakes, lizards and crocodile.

There are more than 300 species of birds including the Crested serpent, Bonnalis and Crested Hawk eagles; Brown Fish and Great Horned Owls; Pygmy Woodpecker, Black Headed Oriole and the Indian Pitta.
Vegetation
Gir Forest is one of the few remaining forests comprising diverse habitats.
The vegetation is mixed deciduous, with Teak, Acacia, Jamun, Tendu and Dhak trees, with large open patches of grasslands.
For most part of the year, Gir Forest is dry with scrub trees and therefore animal sighting is very good.
Other places to see
· Hot springs in Tulsi Shyam deep inside the forest - 96 kms. from Sasan.
· Famous Somnath temple - 45 kms. via Veraval.
· Sirvan - 13 kms. from Sasan. This is a unique village where you can see Siddi tribals of African origin.
· Kamleshwar Dam - 12 kms. away is a beautiful picnic spot.There is a Crocodile Farm here with a large population of marsh crocodiles.
· Interpretation Zone at Devalia -12 kms. from Sasan. This is a fenced lion area covering 412 hectares. You can see lions and other animals in their natural habitat here.

Best Time to Visit

Gir Forest can be visited from mid October to mid June.
But the best time for sighting the lions is November to February.
The sanctuary remains closed during the rainy season.
Getting there
Air
The nearest airport is Keshod - 90 kms. via Veraval.
There are daily flights from Mumbai.

Rail
The nearest railway station is Sasan Gir (1km).
Sasan Gir to Ahemedabad - 395 kms. (metre gauge railway)
Road
From Ahmedabad (via Rajkot, Junagadh and Mendarda) - 400 kms.

My views

Asiatic Lions are classified as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. International trade in Asiatic Lions or their parts is completely banned.
Yet their claws and bones are in great demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
And therefore, the lions are in great danger.
Apart from this, in 1994, canine distemper killed more than 1,000, or about a third, of Africa’s Serengeti lions.
The same or similar calamity could occur in Gir Forest due to lack of genetic diversification.
The Government is thinking of translocating a few Asiatic Lions from Gir Forest to Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh so as to have another habitat.
But unfortunately, the issue has become entangled in political mire.

The Gir Forest is a unique and wonderful place to visit.
Not only have the number of lions increased, the population of other animals have also increased several fold.
There are numerous human settlements of cattle herders called Maldharis within the sanctuary. And they don’t have any problem with the animals.
You can see a perfect example of man and nature living in complete harmony.

3 comments:

PAAVAN JETHAVA said...

Respected Sir,
I see your blog about gir national park.Its really amazing for whose know about wildlife.You can also visit my blog about gir national park.
http://historicaljunagadh.blogspot.com/
I am one of the blogger.
If any suggestion for me,
pls inform me through posting comment on my blog.

PAAVAN JETHAVA said...

Respected Sir,
Thanks for your kind Suggestion.
If You have Photo Collection related Junagadh,Gir National Park.Pls send it me on my e-mail add.seo.pavan85@gmail.com
Waiting for kind replay.
With best regards,

Jug @ Wah said...

Nature and unseen animals are which excite me and almost all tourists to visit national parks. GIR national great one which makes Gujarat more touristy place. I loved each and every part of your post and images were even awe inspiring..