A second home for Asiatic Lions

The decline of the Asiatic lion occurred long before the decline of the African lion. Within the last 200 years lions were found across Asia into parts of eastern Europe. In ancient times they were even found in large parts of the Iberian peninsula, so from the furthest east of Asia to the furthest west of Europe.

This decline almost did not stop in time to save the Lion. When the nature reserve of the Gir forest was created to protect the remaining animals. It is thought that at this time as few as only 20 animals remained. The reserve established has been hugely successful, and Gujarat deserves much praise for its work in this field. The most recent population census puts the Gir forest lion population at around 520, but for a reserve of only 545 square miles this is way to high.

This has led to a number of problems, the most serious of which are high infant mortality due to invading males killing off cubs to bring the females back to be ready to breed. This means that the growth of the population is well below what could be attained.

Another problem with the high population density is that this many lions cannot be supported by a reserve of this size so many of the lions no longer live within the reserve but in the surrounding countryside. Quite apart from the fact that in this situation the lions will start eating domestic livestock as they will be roaming where the livestock is grazed, it is also very bad for the lions as there are thousands of uncovered wells in the area and many lions have died falling into them.

This problem has been well known about and fully admitted to by everyone except the rulers of Gujurat who want to hold on to the claim of being the only remaining home of Asiatic Lions. For years there have been suggestions from conservationist to translocate around 35 of the animals to another reserve, to avoid the entire lion population being wiped out in an epidemic or local disaster. Kuno nature reserve was identified and made ready for the lions, but Gujurat would not let any of them go. In 2013 the Indian high court ruled against Gujurat and ordered the translocation process to begin, but Gujurat has simply refused, despite all legal means of halting the move have been exhausted they still have not allowed any lions to be moved. They have suggested that 33 different assessments of Kuno nature reserve need to be carried out before any translocation can be discussed but it is widely believed that this is merely a delaying tactic and something else would be presented to delay things if all these surveys are completed.

The historical range of the Asiatic Lion covered the majority of India, and continued west to the Southern Balkan states. They would have overlapped in places with the Barbary lion species, and indeed while Barbary lions lived in north Africa they were genetically closer relation to the Asiatic lion.

This shows that it is absurd that a local part of India is refusing to allow the Asiatic lion to recover anywhere apart from around 500 square miles of its own territory. It is hopeful that the Indian high court will eventually settle this and enforce the order to allow some animals to be translocated out. It is noticeable that as much as half of the population is under 2 years old, which suggests that any lions removed would be quickly replaced and the population recover. Far from arguing that the Asiatic lion should not get a second base, the Asiatic lion should be returned to many nature reserves throughout its former range over the next century.

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