There are now approximately 500 Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) living in the Gir landscape, according to the latest count, up from 411 in 2010 when the last official figures were released.
While the increase is promising for the survival of these big cats, experts fear that population growth will bring them into even closer contact with people that live around the Gir Forest in Gujarat, India; the only place Asiatic lions exist. This small number of isolated lions is particularly vulnerable to the threats of disease and conflict with humans.
The population rise has led to many lions moving out of the protected area that spreads over 1,452 sq. km including the Gir National Park, the Gir sanctuary, Mitiyala and Paniya sanctuaries. This puts them at a greater risk of conflict as they come into ever increasing contact with local communities.
Earlier this year ZSL signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government of Gujarat in India, pledging expertise and support to safeguard the future of Asiatic lions.
ZSL is supporting the commendable efforts of the Gujarat Forest Department (GFD) to safeguard this precious population of Asiatic lions through its science-based conservation, wildlife health, community engagement and animal husbandry expertise.
ZSL is working with the GFD and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to support vital lion patrols and monitoring within Gir National Park, train forest guards, assist in community outreach, and invest in state of the art veterinary facilities. As well as providing animal husbandry and specialist veterinary and technical expertise, ZSL will be able to gain insights from working with GFD and WII.
Much of the work is made more urgent by the increasing population. Some specific examples of the activities planned include:
- Upgrading the veterinary equipment and facilities in the Gir.
- Training and equipping rescue and rehabilitation teams in safe capture and release to prevent conflict with humans
- Training of GFD wildlife health personnel in screening of animals in the wild and in captivity to assess health
- Establish disease prevention, disease outbreak, and disease quarantine protocols to prevent catastrophic outbreak to lions or their prey
- Outreach projects in human dominated landscapes where lions are dispersing, to raise awareness on how to co-exist safely with lions, and increase local involvement in lion conservation
- Implementing patrol based monitoring systems for more effective law enforcement and monitoring of the lions
- Training frontline forest rangers in intelligent patrolling and data gathering, to provide data for these systems
- Working with Sakkarbaug Zoo to enhance the genetic stock of the conservation breeding programme by improving breeding protocols and genetic matchmaking.
- Training the husbandry team in Sakkarbaug Zoo & Conservation Breeding Centre for improved animal welfare.