Asiatic Lion Refuge in Gujarat, India Has Been Successful but Is Now under Threat

The only place where the wild Asiatic lion lives is in the Gir Forest, Gujarat, India. It has been a success story. The population of lions has increased. In 1968 there were less than 200 lions. Today the number is 441. There are calls to relocate some of the lions to another reserve. This is one matter which is threatening their survival.

Lion killed on railway in Gir forest
Lion killed on railway in Gir forest
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More importantly perhaps is a program instigated by the Gujarat government to relocate the traditional cattle herders who live in the forest. They are called Maldharis.

The reason for relocating them is to improve lion conservation. The state forest department says it will do the opposite. Lions feed on the livestock. Remove the livestock and the lions will have to search outside of the reserve for food. When lions do this their lives are jeopardised.

In addition, too much activity has been allowed to take place in and around the reserve. There are too many hotels in the buffer zones around the reserve and on its borders. Further, there are roads and railway lines going through the reserve.

Apparently 14 lions were killed in accidents last year because of “transportation and mining-related activities” which take place inside the forest. I read this to mean lions been killed on railway lines and roads.

In addition, there are three big temples with 23 shrines in or around the reserve which attract tourists. There is too much human activity essentially. The purity of the reserve has been eroded. When you combine this with the increased numbers of lions their survival is being attacked from opposite ends.

The reserve is becoming smaller in effect as the population of lions is becoming larger. Not everyone agrees that the relocation of the cattle herders is forcing lions outside of the reserve to look for prey. An alternative reason lions are dispersing outside of the reserve is because there is not enough space in the reserve to accommodate their home ranges (their territories). Young lions leave heir mothers to establish their own home range.

The counterargument is that there is sufficient prey outside the reserve for the lions to thrive. It is interesting that the success of Asiatic lion conservation is causing a problem. This seems to be a failure in planning and management. Ultimately all lion and tiger conservation efforts are undermined by increased human population which effectively reduces the amount of space available to these animals.

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