Picture the scene: the midday sun beats down hard on the dry grass, as an old male lion lies in the shade of a tree yawning lazily. You’ve probably pictured yourself standing somewhere in the African savannah, but that peacock calling in the distance is not extremely lost, you are, in fact, in India.
Specifically, you are in the Gir forest in western India. It is here that the last remaining Asiatic lions in the world make their home. Once widespread from the Mediterranean to eastern India, their range has been reduced to this patch of forest the size of London, and that old male is one of less than 600 left in the wild.
At first there is little to tell this lion apart from an African lion, but a closer look reveals a subtle difference: a fold of skin running down his belly.
With such a tiny population left, Asiatic lions are highly vulnerable to the threats of disease, inbreeding, and conflict with humans, particularly as they are beginning to wander outside of the Gir forest in search of more territory.
Fortunately for this old male, not too far away a group of men and women are showing a little more energy than he is, and are hard at work securing the future of his species.
Last week a team from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) travelled to the Gir forest in Gujarat to sign an historic Memorandum of Understanding with the Gujarat Forest Department (GFD), the first international cooperation of its kind to be focussed on protecting Asiatic lions.
ZSL and GFD, along with the Wildlife Institute of India, will be collaborating on a two year project to support vital lion patrols and monitoring, train forest guards and invest in state of the art veterinary facilities for Sakkarbaug Zoo. ZSL will also strengthen existing awareness and community outreach programmes targeted at schools and local women’s groups in order to reduce human/lion conflict.
The project comes as part of ZSL’s Asiatic Lions Campaign, which also is fundraising for a new enclosure for its own Asiatic lions, who are part of the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme.
“This is a major milestone for ZSL’s Asiatic Lions Campaign, which aims to raise funds to carry out vital conservation work in the wild as well as create Land of the Lions, a state-of-the-art Asiatic lion home and breeding centre at ZSL London Zoo.” said Ralph Armond, Director General of ZSL.
To find out more about how to support the ZSL’s Asiatic Lions Campaign, visit www.zsl.org/lions
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