Asiatic LionThe Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica) is a subspecies of the lion which survives today only in India and hence it is also known as the Indian lion. They ranged once from the Mediterranean to India, covering most of Southwest Asia where it was also known as the Persian Lion. The current wild population consists of around 360 restricted to the Gir Forest in the state of Gujarat, India. There are plans to re-introduce some into the wild in Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in the neighboring Indian State of Madhya Pradesh soon.
The historic distribution included the Caucasus to Yemen and from Macedon to present-day India through Iran (Persia), & even Pakistan Through Bangladesh borders..
StatusThe Gir Forest National Park of western India has about 359 lions (as of April 2006) which live in a 1,412 km˛ (558 square miles) sanctuary covered with scrub and open deciduous forest habitats. The population in 1907 consisted of only 13 lions and the Nawab of Junagadh gave them complete protection.
The tiger, which is the other large cat on the Indian subcontinent, is presently not found in the area occupied by the Lion. The Gir forest is close to numerous human habitations and the lions sometimes prey on livestock. Some tribes have also been known to steal meat from lion kills. This has led to many conflicts between the local people, lions and the wildlife officials
Inbreeding concernsThe wild population of more than 360 Asiatic Lions is thought to be derived from just 13 individuals and thus was widely thought to be highly inbred. Many studies have reported that the inbred populations could be susceptible to diseases, and their sperm were deformed leading to infertility. In earlier studies Stephen O'Brien, a geneticist, had suggested that "If you do a DNA fingerprint, Asiatic lions actually look like identical twins... because they descend from as few as a dozen individuals that was all left at the turn of the 20th century." This makes them especially vulnerable to diseases, and causes 70% to 80% of sperm to be deformed — a ratio that can lead to infertility when lions are further inbred in captivity.
A subsequent study suggested that the low genetic variability may have been a feature of the original population and not a result of inbreeding in recent times. They also show that the variability in immunotypes is close to that of the tiger population and that there are no spermatazoal abnormalities in the current population of Asiatic Lions. The results of the study have been questioned due the use of RAPD techniques which are unsuitable for population genetics research. The population figure of 13 Asiatic lions at the turn of 1900s is inaccurate according to some reports and is said to have been publicized to discourage hunting. Census data from that time indicates that the population was closer to 100. Hunting of lions was a popular sport with the British Colonialists and Indian Royalty, and all other lions in India had been exterminated by then.
ReintroductionWork has been going on over the past decade to establish the world's second completely removed population of the wild free ranging Asiatic Lions. Wildlife Institute of India researchers confirmed that the Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary is the most promising location to re-establish a free ranging population of the Asiatic lions and certified it ready to receive it's first batch of translocated lions from Gir Wildlife Sanctuary where they are highly overpopulated. The Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary was selected as the reintroduction site for critically endangered Asiatic lion because it is in the former range of the lions before it was hunted into extinction in about 1873. It was selected following stringent international criteria and internationally accepted requirements & guidelines developed by IUCN/SSC Reintroduction Specialist Group and IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group which are followed before any reintroduction attempt anywhere in the world.
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