Known as: Asian Lion, Asiatic Lion, Indian Lion.
Estimated numbers left in the wild: 411.
The Asian lion is a large predatory cat, very similar to the African lion in physical size and appearance, though they are somewhat smaller. The longest recorded Asian lion was 2.92 meters long; most stand around a meter high at the shoulders, and weigh 110 to 120 kilograms for females and 160 to 190 kilograms for males. Asian lions also differ in having a long fold of skin running along their underside, including their chests and stomachs. The male Asian lion has a mane, but it is not as full as the African lion’s mane.
Pride structure: Asian lions live in prides, similar to those of the African lion, but these are smaller and include only two to five females each. This is due to the fact that Asian lions prey on much smaller animals than their African counterparts, and therefore do not need large numbers to kill their prey cooperatively.
Hunting: Deer, antelope, and boar form most of the Asian lion’s diet, all of which need less force to bring down and thus support a more diffuse population. The chital – a 50 kilogram spotted deer – makes up the majority of Asian lion kills at 45% of the total. A single lion can easily overpower a chital, lessening the need for pride cooperation further.
Asian lions take domestic animals as well as wild, with several thousand kills occurring annually near the wildlife refuge. The number of kills has declined since livestock was successfully shifted out of the Gir Forest, but remains problematic since it provides an incentive for poaching, trapping, and other harmful activities. Fortunately, resettlement and the removal of domestic animals has caused a dramatic population rebound in the Asian lions’ natural prey.
Location: The Asian lion is found only in India’s Gujarat Province today, predominantly in the Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. Three protected areas (Gir Sanctaury, Gir National Park and Pania Sanctuary) represent the core habitat of the Asian Lion with an area of 1452 km2 of forest. Two further sanctuaries ( Mitiyala and Girnar) provide protection for dispersal or satellite areas. A new sanctuary, in the Barda forest is being established in order to provide alternative habitat for Gir lions. These protected areas consists of dry teak forest, deciduous forest, thorny forest and savanna with diverse flora and fauna.
Threats: Asian lions were hunted, shot, and poisoned to protect domestic animals from possible predation, and this remains a risk to this day. Some poaching occurs and there is evidence of organized gangs forming with the express purpose of poaching these lions. Asian lions are also in danger from electrified fences that farmers put up to keep grazing animals out of their fields. A large numbers of these magnificent felines have also fallen into the open well shafts dug in the area, where they drown. This is a considerable risk since there are approximately 20,000 wells in close proximity to the Gir Forest National Park.
Conservation efforts: Despite the tiny population and limited range of the Asian lion, there are actually some positive signs that conservation attempts are paying off. The current population of about 411 individuals is twice what the total population was three decades ago. The Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project is attempting to restore additional wild populations with captive-bred animals, though the state of Gujarat is resisting this as they wish to retain their unique status as the only home of wild Asian lions.
Asian Lion Videos
>David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust funds and help train the forest guards to protect the last Asiatic lions within the Gir National Park, India.
Wildlife Conservation Society
Wildlife Conservation Society was formed in 1895 with the aim of protecting 25 percent of the world’s biodiversity by promoting the importance of protecting wildlife and their habitats. WCS has five zoos in New York.