Asiatic lion roars back after threat of extinction

The Asiatic lion
SURVIVING: The Asiatic lion

THE endangered Asiatic lion, which only lives in one forest in India, has fought back from the verge of extinction, with its population increasing to more than 600, a minister said on Tuesday (6) hail­ing a major conservation campaign.  

The lion, which once roamed across southwest Asia but is now restricted to the 1,400 square kilometre (545 square mile) Gir sanctuary in Gujarat, was listed as critically endangered in 2000, with its population under threat due to hunting and human encroachment on its habitat.  

A recent unofficial count found more than 600 lions in the area, up from 523 in a 2015 census, Gujarat’s chief minister Vijay Rupani said. “Our efforts for lion conservation with support of local peo­ple have yielded good results. The num­ber of lions now in Gujarat has reached the 600 mark,” Rupani said.  

In the late 1960s only about 180 Asi­atic lions were thought to survive, but an improvement in numbers prompted conservationists to raise their assess­ment to endangered in 2008.  

The population is growing at about two per cent a year, according to AP Singh, a state forest and wildlife conservationist.  

The cats are cousins of the African lion – they are believed to have split away 100,000 years ago – but are slightly small­er and have a distinctive fold of skin along their bellies.  

They are a major tourist attraction in Gujarat where in the past they were the target of poachers.  

Priyavrat Gadhvi, a member of Guja­rat’s wildlife board, credited conserva­tion schemes, well-trained staff and vets as well as help from farmers for the re­covery in numbers.  

“There is tremendous support from the local population in Gujarat who are tolerant despite lions attacking their cat­tle. This is coupled with effective conser­vation management and skilled staff at ground level,” he said.