Gir National ParkThe Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is the sole home of the pure Asiatic Lions . Measuring about 258 km² for the fully protected area and 1153 km² for the Sanctuary, the area is considered to be one of the most important protected areas in Asia due to its supported species. Established in 1965, the total area of 1412 km² is located about 65 km to the south-east of Junagadh city of the Junagadh district in the kathiawar peninsula of Gujarat state, India.
The ecosystem of Gir, with its diverse flora and fauna, is a result of the efforts of the Government forest department, wildlife activists and NGOs. The forest area of Gir and its lions were declared as "protected" in the early 1900's by the then Nawab of the princely state of Junagadh. This initiative assisted in the conservation of the lions whose population had plummeted to only 15 through slaughter for trophy hunting.,
The April 2005 census recorded the lion-count in Gir at 359, an increase of 32 compared to 2001. The lion breeding programme covering the park and surrounding area has bred about 180 lions in captivity since its inception.
Climatic conditionsIn addition to the two seasons of summer and winter, Gir has a tropical monsoon climate. It can become very hot during the summer, with noon temperature reaching 43 °C or 109 °F, and humid during the monsoon in June. In winter the temperature drops to about 10 °C or 50 °F. The normal monsoon starts from mid-June and lasts till September, with the annual rainfall ranging between 600 mm and 1000 mm. However, because of the irregular monsoon and uneven distribution of rainfall across the peninsula, drought years are common.
The park and the sanctuary remain open all year but the cool and dry weather between late-November and early-March is the recommended visiting period. During this period it is easier to sight the wildlife in the open.
FloraMore than 400 flora species have been recorded by the survey of Gir forest by Samtapau & Raizada in 1955. The Botany department of M.S. University of Baroda has revised the count to 507 during their survey. According to the 1964 forest type classification by Champion & Sheth, the Gir forest falls under "5A/C-1a—very dry teak forest" classification. Teak occurs mixed with dry deciduous species. The degradation stages (DS) sub-types are thus derived as: 1) 5/DS1-Dry deciduous scrub forest and 2) 5/DS1-Dry savannah forests (Locally known as "vidis"). It is the largest dry deciduous forest in western India.
Teak bearing areas are mainly in the eastern portion of the forest, which constitutes nearly half of the total area. The forest is an important biological research area with considerable scientific, educational, aesthetic and recreational values. It provides nearly 5 million kilograms of green grass by annual harvesting, which is valued approximately at Rs. 50 crores (Rs. 500,000,000) (US$ 10 million). The forest provides nearly 15,000 metric tons worth of fuel wood annually.
Threats to the Asiatic LionsEven though the Gir Forest is well protected, there are incidences of Asiatic Lions being poached. Lions have also been poisoned for attacking livestock. Some of the other threats include floods, fires and the possibility of epidemics and natural calamities. All the wild Asiatic Lions of the entire world are presently found only in the tiny Gir Forest, Gujarat, India. Having now grown to about 350 they need more room but the Gir forest is boxed in on all sides with human habitation. Due to the overpopulation the lions have started migrating out of Gir into unprotected farmland where they come in regular conflict with humans.
Over the decades hundreds of lions have died, drowned and broken their bones by falling into the 10000 to 15000 open-wells dug by the farmers in and around Gir Forest. Open wells are now a threat to the last 300 odd wild Asiatic Lions found living at Gir Forest. Every year the farmers dig more open wells but the State Government of Gujarat (India) has done nothing to make these illegal. There is an urgent need to pass a law to make open-wells illegal and farmers should be legally required to build a parapet wall around the wells and fence them in.
Farmers on the periphery of the Gir National Park frequently use illegal electric fences to protect their crops from raiding wild animals, specially from herds of Nilgai and connect high voltage overhead power lines directly to these fences. This has on several occasions led to the electrocution of Asiatic Lions and other wildlife.
The biggest threat faced by the park is the presence of Maldharis. These communities are vegetarian and do not indulge in poaching because they are basically pasturalists, with an average of 50 cattle (mainly Gir Cow) per family. So during grass-scarce seasons Maldharis, even from outside the sanctuary, bring their cattle into the park in the guise of selling them and take them away after the monsoon season. So eventually it has become grazing ground for a large number of cattle, not only of the Maldharis but also for those living in an area of say 100 km around the park. These people are legally entitled to live in the park but slowly the area around the nesses (small hamlets where Maldharis live) is becoming denuded of vegetation. The population of Maldharis, as well as their numbers of cattle, is increasing and some Maldharis have houses outside the forest but still keep their cattle inside the forest to get unlimited access to forage. One of the outcomes of this is that the natural population of the wild ungulates of the protected area which forms the prey base suffers and sometimes the Asiatic lions which have attacked livestock are poisoned.
The Lion breeding programme and lion-countingThe Lion Breeding Programme creates and maintains breeding centres. It also carries out studies of the behaviour of the Asiatic lions and also practices artificial insemination. One such centre has been established in the Sakkarbaug Zoo at the district headquarters of Junagadh, which has successfully bred about 180 lions. 126 pure Asiatic lions have been given to zoos in India and abroad.
The census of lions takes place every five years. Previously indirect methods like using pugmarks of the lion were adopted for the count. However, during the census of April 2005 (which originally was scheduled for 2006, but was advanced following the reports and controversy over vanishing tigers in India), "Block-Direct-Total Count" method was employed with the help of around 1,000 forest officials, experts and volunteers. It means that only those lions were counted that were "spotted" visually. Use of "live bait" (a prey that is alive and used as a bait) for the exercise, though thought to be a traditional practice, was not used this time. The reason believed to be behind this is the Gujarat High Court ruling of 2000 against such a use of animals.
Location: Junagadh District, Gujarat, India
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