Celebrating and conserving Indian lions - GulfToday

Celebrating and conserving Indian lions

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

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The decline of lion populations by approximately 80% in the past century led to the establishment of the World Lion Day in 2013.

Recently, on 10 August, we celebrated World Lion Day. This Day celebrates these majestic creatures and aims to raise awareness and support for their conservation. This day is also an opportunity to learn about the importance of lions in the natural world and the potential impacts of their extinction on humanity. Once found in large numbers across Asia and Africa, the lion population is almost at the point of extinction due to hunting and habitat loss.

Reportedly, there are as few as 23,000 lions left in the wild. Compared to around 415,000 wild African elephants, lion numbers are incredibly low. In fact, lions have disappeared from over 90% of their historical range. The decline of lion populations by approximately 80% in the past century led to the establishment of the World Lion Day in 2013, due to concerted efforts by conservation enthusiasts Dereck and Beverly Joubert and the National Geographic and initiated the Big Cat Initiative (BCI) in 2009 to safeguard and preserve the world’s remaining lion species.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on the occasion that World Lion Day provided an opportunity to celebrate the magnificent lions that capture our admiration with their strength and magnificence. India felt proud to be the home of the Asiatic Lions and highlighted that there had been a consistent rise in the lion population in India over recent years. He also praised the individuals and groups working to protect the lions’ habitats and hoped that the efforts to cherish and safeguard these creatures would continue, ensuring their thriving existence for generations to come.

The Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) only exists around the Gir Forest National Park in western India. According to the latest available official figures, there are only about 674 lions, including around 250 females in Gir. According to an IndiaTimes report, while this was an increase of 29% from the 2015 figure of 523, in March this year, the Gujarat government had told the assembly that the Gir sanctuary and adjoining areas lost 240 lions, including 128 cubs, to natural and unnatural causes over the two years ending on December 31, 2022. The report adds that with the lion population growing and Gir becoming ‘overcrowded,’ conservationists have been calling for the setting up a second home for the Asiatic lions. They also said that this will help ensure the species’ survival even if there is an outbreak like the canine distemper virus (CDV) outbreak in 1994 that nearly wiped out the Serengeti lion population. Since 2018, CDV has killed many lions in Gir, making the need for a second home for lions more important than ever. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has designated the Asiatic Lion as an endangered species because of its limited population and constrained habitat.

The World Wide Fund for Nature - UK website has some fascination facts about these towering kings of the jungle.

• In the wild, there are two formally recognised lion subspecies. The African lion (Panthera leo leo) is found in Africa, south of the Sahara Desert. The Asiatic lion only exists around Gir Forest National Park in western India.

• On average, male lions weigh 190 kg and females weigh 126 kg. They need this weight and power behind them to hunt large prey and defend their pride.

• Male lions grow impressive manes the older they get. These manes grow up to 16 cm long and are a sign of dominance. The older they get, the darker their manes go.

• A pride of lions is usually made up of related females and their cubs, plus a male or small group of males who defend their pride.

• Lions are highly adaptable and can live in very dry areas like the Kalahari Desert. Here they get most of their water from their prey and will even drink from plants.

• Lions can eat up to 40 kg of meat in a single meal - around a quarter of their body weight.

• Lions do most of their hunting at night as their eyes have adapted to the dark and gives them an advantage over their prey. They hunt more during storms as it is harder for prey to see and hear them.

•  Lions are the only known cat species where individuals roar together - with even young cubs joining in with their mews. The calling sequence usually lasts about 40 seconds. A group of lions, also called ‘a pride’ often roar together to mark their territory — a roar can be heard from 5 miles away.

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