Asiatic lions continue to make a come back in India. The latest surveys shows that Gir Asiatic Lion Sanctuary has 100 new arrivals this year. The 100 cubs are a large increase on the normal 80 – 85 cubs born each year. It is further success for the conservation of a species that until recently was still declared critically endangered.
Against a backdrop of african lions slowly disappearing – Kenya is thought to have just 2000 wild lions left – the Asiatic lion is slowly beginning to regain lost ground. Conservation efforts have been successful enough for the species to have been removed from the IUCN Critically Endangered list in 2008 and conservationists hope for more good news when the latest IUCN Red List report is published shortly.
The latest batch of cubs will help to boost numbers of lions in Gir which is considered to be last remaining stronghold of wild Asiatic lions. In 2010 the sanctuary contained 411 adult Asiatic lions. Not all of the cubs that were born this year will make it to adulthood as 57% of cubs will die before reaching 3 years of age.
One of the best news of the report is that most of the cubs can be seen by tourists as the families are living in the most popular and open parts of the sanctuary.
Deputy conservator of forests for Gujarat Sandeep Kumar explained, “The chances of visitors sighting the cubs have increased as many of the little ones are in the tourist zone of the forest.”
Principal chief conservator of forests CN Pandey described how important the local residents have been in making the sanctuary successful and have helped thew lions to rebuild their numbers. “We have seen an increase in the number of cubs with each passing year. It is possible only because of the cooperation the forest department gets from villagers and patrolling staff. People immediately inform us if they see an injured cub in the area. This helps reduce mortality,” he said.
The conservation programme has been so successful at Gir that the Supreme Court has order the state to provide some Asiatic lions to a sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. It is hoped that by establishing a second population the species can grow quicker and be a less risk of a catastrophe that could wipe out an individual population.
There are concerns that a new population may meet the same fate as the last time a second population of lions was established. In the 1990’s some lions were translocated to Uttar Pradesh. Initially things appeared to go well with the population expanding but then the entire population disappeared. It is thought that the lions were every killed by poachers or poisoned by local farmers and residents.
IUCN Red List: Panthera leo ssp. persica