Memos from Asia

Gir: The Only Abode of Asiatic Lions

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Asiatic Lioness and Cub

Lions are a symbol of power and courage around the globe. These beasts that once roamed the plains around continents, are now an endangered species with few places to call home.

Asiatic Lions, a different subspecies than African Lions, is one of the rarest big cats today. The only place they are found is in India’s western state Gujarat.

Gir National Park

In western India, part of a semiarid region has a deciduous forest of teak and thorny trees creating a dusty, brown landscape in which the majestic Asiatic Lions roam freely. The forest is called the Gir forest.

Gir National Park is a sanctuary declared in 1965 for India’s only lions in the Gir forest of Junagadh district. It has an area of 545 sq miles that is inhabited not only by lions but also by a diverse group of animals like antelopes, gazelles, leopards, wild pigs, and crocodiles.

Asiatic Lion is an endangered subspecies and they have been brought back to a stable population from the brink of extinction after they were nearly wiped out by hunters, royals, and British officers in colonial times.

The history of efforts to protect these lions actually goes back to the late 19th century when the Nawab of the then princely state of Junagadh banned hunting of lions for the first time in 1879.

Cute little Lion cub in Gir forest

While the hunting was banned long ago, the lions were still being hunted until 1965 because of various reasons. Since 1965 though the effects of absolute protection in independent India have been visible on the ground. The population which was of “at least 100” in 1905 according to Junagadh administration, is estimated to be 674 lions in 2020 after an estimation exercise in lieu of the regular census which was canceled due to the CoViD-19 pandemic.

The Lion Safaris

Gir National Park offers Lion Safaris for tourists to see these wild animals in their natural habitat.

The Gir Jungle Trail Safaris are developed keeping all the different habitats of Gir at the center. Each safari track in the tourism zone consists of about 35 km long journey with artificial waterholes along the route for better chances of wildlife sightings.

You can book private open Gypsies online for the Gir Jungle Trail. The Gypsies must take a local professional guide with them who explains the flora, fauna, and history of Gir to the tourists.

GIZ – Devalia

Gir National Park has also created a 1.6 sq miles large Gir Interpretation Zone – Devalia to allow tourists to watch the wildlife of Gir in a small area.

GIZ – Devalia is also called ‘Gir in a nutshell’ because this zone covers all kinds of habitats of Gir and major flora and fauna of Gir. The safaris here are short and helps reduce the tourist pressure on the sanctuary and especially lions who are the center of attraction every day.

GIZ – Devalia safaris can be enjoyed in two different vehicles. Apart from the open Gypsies, there are also forest department buses providing safari tours to multiple tourists.

Many places worth visiting

Black-backed jackal stands in Gir national park

Visiting Gir National Park isn’t just about safaris. For your stay, there are many hotels, resorts, and guest houses nearby that provide great facilities. Gir National Park has built various other places to educate tourists about local biodiversity.

Gir Orientation Centre is the best place to learn all about Gir and understand the behavior, characteristics, and habitat needs of various species. From Gir Souvenir Shop you can buy local arts and crafts related to Asiatic Lions, Gir, and local biodiversity made by communities that have coexisted with the Lions for centuries.

Gir Arboretum and Birding Point displays the local flora including medicinal plants. They also saved some rare indigenous flora of Gir by creating a nursery.

The Birding Point provides an unforgettable experience of watching birds like flycatchers, babblers, prinias, parakeets, woodpeckers, doves, shrikes, wagtails, and innumerable butterflies. There is also an amphitheater close to it that arranges a shown on Gir every day for tourists at no cost.

Gir is an extraordinary place to see a group of lions that have been saved from the brink of extinction. With the efforts of local government and NGOs, it is today possible to say what is today the only abode of Asiatic Lions will not be the final abode of this subspecies.

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