Blogs > Asiatic Lion > Lions not fully safe in Gir

Posted by Indranil Datta on March 03, 2011

Ten thousand years ago,their habitat ranged from the Mediterannean to the wilds of India.They now cling precariously to theirmodern habitat,an impossibly small domain Gir National Park.A rough census at the time of independence shows about 250 lions,the 2010 census quotes 411.This may sound like good news but this large number is ironically the main cause for concern.It may be odd to think of the Asiatic lion as endangered,but the truth is that Gir is way overpopulated and needs quite a few of its lions relocated urgently.Ignorance and false pride from the state goverment's part can have disastrous consequences as the sanctuary is proving to small for the big cats.With the shortage of territory to command,lions are fast moving out of the sanctuary.Some of them have even taken to the beach!.To survive the lions have to put up with factors such as acute inbreeding given that the 400 plus population has been said to have been derived from around a dozen individuals.

A broader look to know what inbreeding actually means-

Inbreeding is the reproduction from the mating of two genetically related parents,which can increase the chances of the offspring being affected by rrecessice traits.This generally leads to a decreased fitness of the population,which is called inbreeding depression
Results of inbreeding-
1.Increase in genetic disorders
2.lower birth rate
3.slower growth rate
4.Reduced fertility
5.Higher infant mortality rate
6.Loss of immune system
7.Small adult size

O'Brien,a renowned genecsist suggested that "If you do a DNA fingerprint,Asiatic lions look like identical twins because they descended from as few as a dozen individuals that was all left at the turn of the century".This makes them specially vulnerable to diseases.As it is perpetuating the species is a difficult task as the big cats have to copulate no less than 500 times to produce a litter.The most serious threat is the fear of the outbreak of a disease that could wipe out the entire population,bringing into account the fact that this has already happened once before.In 1994 canine distemper killed more than a third of Africa's serengeti lions.Lets pray our lions dont meet the same fate.

Hopes of a secure future in the Reintroduction Project Plan-

The Asiatic lion Rentroduction project plan aims to establish a second independent population of Asiatic lions at the Kuno Wildlfie santuary in the state of Madhya Pradesh,in an effort to save the lions of Gir which are living under the threat of natural disasters and epidemics.Wildlife Institute of India researchers confirmed that Palpur-Kuno WLS is the most promising location to re-establish a free ranging population and certified it ready to receive its first batch of translocated lions.Kuno WLS was selected as the reintroduction site because it is in the former range of the lions before they were hunted to near extinction.Twenty four villages which lived inside the remote core area set aside for the reintroduction of lions have been moved out with adequate compensation and promise of better facilities and provisions given to each family.However,it was still a controversial case of species preservation  via dislocation of human population.

The most shocking thing so far is that,the Chief minister of Gujrat,Narendra Modi has strictly opposed relocation plans arguing that lions were the main tourist attraction of the state saying that the lions are 'Gujrat's pride'.Perhaps he does not want Gujrat to lose its Status as the only state home to Asiatic lions.It is unclear whether there is any political agenda behind it,but so far the goverment's constant refusal has only underlined its ignorance.Modi continues to put ona resistance despite our Uninion environment and forest minister,Jairam Ramesh pressuring Gujrat to part with some of its lions with Madhya Pradesh,he has also expressed concern over the fear of inbreeding and a potential epedemic.So lets just keep our fingers crossed and hope that whatever being done is done with the lions best interests in mind.

The other less damaging but nevertheless serious threats to the lions-

1.Poisoning by farmers as an act of revenge for killing livestock
2.Natural or man made calamities such as floods,forest fires and epedemics(Drought does not count as a threat as the construction of 4 new dams and 300 water points makes sure problems related to water insuffiency for the animals do not arise.
3.Wells dug by the farmers for irrigations act as trap,leading to lions drowning
4.Farmers on the periphery of the Gir forest use crude and electrical fences which are powered from high volatage electricity deom the overhead power lines.This is primarily done to protect their crop from nilgais but are also responsibly for many lion deaths.
5.Habitat decline due to overgrazing.

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