Asiatic Lion : Characteristics, habitat, and population

Asiatic Lion -

Asiatic Lion : Characteristics, habitat, and population

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Less than 100 years ago, there were many lions in Iran and India. Currently, there are less than 300 lions remaining in the Gir Forest. It has a less important mane and a fold in the middle of the belly. In addition to this, there is much more hair on the elbow. The Asian lion 🦁is generally smaller than the African, it is 10 to 20% smaller than the African lion. The group size is on average smaller than that of its African counterpart.

Asiatic Lion - Panthera Leo Persica.

The Asian lion, also called the Persian lion is a carnivorous mammal of the cat family. The feline lives in India in the province of Gir. Its population is estimated at 500 individuals still living in the wild.

The Asiatic lion is a large feline classified in the genus Panthera, like the tiger. There are few physical differences between the African lion and the Asian lion. Only males wear a mane, but it is shorter than that of its African cousin and the ears are visible. Another difference is the pouch of skin that extends under the belly to the hind legs, which is important in the Asian lion, unlike the African lion, which rarely develops it.

Male Asiatic lion.

Male Asiatic lion.

The thick coat of the Asian lion is generally sandy grey to reddish brown with brown or black speckles. The tail has a tuft of long hair on the tip. The skull of the Asiatic lion has two small openings or holes that allow the passage of nerves and blood vessels for the eyes. The skull of African lions have only one hole on each side 👀.

General description of the Asiatic Lion.

Order
Carnivore Felix
Family
Panther Feline
Genre
Panthera Leo
Species
Panthera Leo Persica

Physical characteristics of the Asiatic Lion.

Size
Females : 55 to 70 inches | Males : 70 to 110 inches
Height 
39 to 51 inches
Weight
Females : 260 to 350 lbs | Males : 330 to 400 lbs
Tail length
31 inches
Colour of fur
Brown

Habitat of the Asiatic Lion.

Asian lions are found exclusively in the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in the Indian state of Saurashtra. Their original range extended from Greece to northern North Africa and covered the Middle East to India. The Greek historian Herodotus (VII, 125-126) states that lions in Europe live exclusively in the mountains of northern mainland Greece. To illustrate this point, he says that in 480 B.C., during the Medieval Wars, dromedaries from the caravan of Xerxes were attacked by lions in Macedonia, since these lions did not attack humans or horses 🐎. Over time, the limits of the Asian lion's territory were gradually pushed back : it became extinct in Greece as early as the 1st century BC, in Palestine in the 13th century, in Pakistan in 1842, and survived until the 20th century (about 1914) in Iraq and Iran, where it was spotted in 1942. In Persia it disappeared in 1941. At the end of the 19th century, only about a hundred lions were counted in the Gir Forest, while in 1857 a British officer boasted of killing up to three hundred lions in the Delhi region. In 1974 there were 200 individuals in the Gir Reserve.

Two male Asiatic lions.

Two male Asiatic lions.

The Asian lion used to live in a habitat similar to that of the African lion. It was made up of savannah and light forests. Due to the reduction of its range, it is only found in the Gir Forest in India, which is composed of teak forest and the drier parts of acacia trees. A few rivers and lakes criss-cross the park and fill up during the monsoon season.

Alimentation of the Asiatic Lion.

The Asiatic lion is a carnivorous predator whose diet consists mainly of deer such as sambar or chital. It also preys on livestock such as the Asian buffalo. According to a 1993 study, it appears that its diet consists of 43% chitals (Axis axis), 14.8% sambar (Rusa unicolor) and more than 35% cattle. However, this cat is not considered to be a man-eater. It hunts alone when the opportunity arises and sometimes steals the fruits of the hunt from hyenas or dholes 🦌.

Reproduction of the Asiatic Lion.

The Asiatic lion has a polygamous breeding pattern. The breeding period is from October to November, which coincides with the arrival of winter. The gestation period lasts about 3 and a half months, and litters consist of 2 to 4 cubs. 1/3 of the cubs succumb before their first year. Sexual maturity is reached around the age of 3 or 4 years. The Asian lioness gives birth only once every 2 years.

The life expectancy of the Asiatic lion is between 12 and 16 years. That is, females live longer than males.

Asiatic lion.

Asiatic lion.

Behaviour of the Asiatic Lion.

The Asiatic lion is a social animal that lives in groups. It is composed of a dominant male, young lions and a few females. The surface area of a territory is 100 to 200 km² for males and 50 to 100 km² for females. During the breeding season, or when hunting big game, males and females form a coalition with other groups. It is not known whether the altered social behaviour of the Asiatic lion 🦁is a consequence of the low numbers of Asiatic lions, low numbers of large prey, or excessive hunting pressure. Indeed, their habitat type would tend to a solitary social organization, close to that of the tiger.

Like its African cousin, the male Asian lion spends most of its time doing nothing. He leaves the lionesses the chore of hunting, except for very large game, which requires the power of the dominant male.

Asiatic Lion Threats.

The Asian lion faces 3 major threats :

1) A reduced range.

2) Conflicts with humans.

3) Genetic impoverishment.

Observations of the physiology of some specimens suggested that the remaining population was severely affected by inbreeding, diminishing the ability to adapt to environmental variations 🌿, such as disease or even forest fires. Another threat is a possible drastic reduction in the lion's prey following droughts.

The Asiatic lion is also threatened by human intrusion into Gir Forest National Park. By introducing their herd, Maldhari herders increase the number of attacks on their livestock. Although compensated by the Indian state, tensions are high and some herders leave poisoned livestock in retaliation.

Asiatic lion.

Asiatic lion.

Persian lion - The Asiatic lion is also called the Persian lion.

In the 1950s, biologists advised the government to re-establish at least one wild population in the former range of the Asiatic lion to ensure the survival of the species. In 1956, the Indian Wildlife Council accepted a proposal from the Government of Uttar Pradesh to establish a new sanctuary for the proposed reintroduction : the Chandraprabha Wildlife Sanctuary covering 96 km² in eastern Uttar Pradesh where the climate, terrain and vegetation are similar to the conditions of the Gir forest. In 1957, one male and two wild females were released into the sanctuary. This population numbered 11 animals in 1965, all of which subsequently disappeared 🌳.

The initiative to find an alternative habitat to reintroduce Asian lions continued in the 1990s. Biologists from the Wildlife Institute of India evaluated several potential sites. The Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Madhya Pradesh was ranked as the most promising, followed by the Sita Mata Wildlife Sanctuary and Darrah National Park. Until 2000, 1,100 families from 16 villages had been resettled outside the Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary. With this resettlement programme the protected area was expanded by 345 km².

Gujarat state officials resisted the relocation, as they were unwilling to lose the title of the world's only reserve for the Asian lion. Gujarat had raised a number of objections to the proposal, and the case was now before the Supreme Court of India. In April 2013, the Indian Supreme Court sentenced the State of Gujarat to send some specimens from the Gir Reserve to Madhya Pradesh to establish a second population there. The court gave the wildlife authorities 6 months to carry out the transfer.

Asiatic lion map location.

Asiatic lion map location.

Population of Asiatic Lions.

The Asiatic lion is on the brink of extinction. In 2010, a census indicates that the population is estimated to have increased by 52 individuals compared to the previous count. There are now 411 specimens, up from 13 in 1907 when the Nawab of Junagadh granted them full protection. They are distributed over an area of 1412 km² of scrub and acacia trees in open areas. The pressure of overgrazing weighs heavily on the Gir's lion as it leads to the destruction of its last habitat and the decline of its natural prey 🦌. There is also a serious inbreeding problem that is being addressed internally by the Indians who are in the process of establishing a second sanctuary in Palpur in the state of Madhya Pradesh, due to the overpopulation of Gir's Park. Some 200 other Asian lions live in zoos.

Status and conservation of the Asiatic Lion.

The Asiatic lion is now in danger of extinction. There are far fewer specimens left in the wild than there are African lions. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies this feline as Endangered and it is listed in Appendix I of CITES as the highest level of protection prohibiting all trade.

This species is one of the most threatened mammal species, and the Indian government has put in place a reintroduction plan, called the Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project, aimed in particular at preventing a single core population from being condemned to genetic erosion in a single forest. An initial intensive conservation breeding programme came to an abrupt halt when research showed that the majority of specimens used in this programme were hybrids crossed with African lions. Indeed, only 4 individuals were true Asian lions. Breeding was resumed, taking care of the origin of the lions used.

Asiatic lionness.

Asiatic lionness.

History of the Asiatic Lion.

The original range of the Asian lion extended from Greece to northern Maghreb and covered the Middle East as far as India. The Greek historian Herodotus states that the lions that lived in Europe resided exclusively in the mountains of northern mainland Greece. To illustrate this point, he says that in 480 B.C., during the Medieval Wars, dromedaries from the caravan of Xerxes were attacked by lions in Macedonia.

Over time, the boundaries of the Asiatic lion's territory gradually narrowed. It became extinct in Greece as early as the 1st century BC, in Palestine in the 13th century, in Pakistan in 1842 and survived until the 20th century (about 1914) in Iraq and Iran, where it was last seen in 1942. In Persia it disappeared in 1941. At the end of the 19th century, only about 100 lions were counted in the Gir Forest, while in 1857 a British officer boasted of having killed up to 300 lions in the Delhi area.

In 1913, the Nawab decided to protect the Asiatic lion, whose population had fallen to around 30 individuals. In 1950, the population of the Gir forest reached 220 individuals. In 1957, a reintroduction in the sanctuary of Chandraprabha is attempted by the Indian government. Two lionesses and a male lion were introduced into the park and reproduced until they reached 11 individuals. Unfortunately, they disappeared mysteriously in 1965. In 1972, important efforts are led by the Forest Department to reduce the quantity of livestock in Gir Park and the Asian lion population rises to 284 individuals in 1990 and then to 304 individuals in 1995.

Conservation status IUCN :

Wild Cat of the World considers the Asian lion a textbook case of the problems that can arise in conserving an isolated population of large carnivores; four major threats affect the Asian lion : a reduced range, tensions with the ever-increasing domestic livestock industry, lion attacks on humans, and genetic impoverishment.

Observations of the physiology of some specimens suggested that the remaining population was severely affected by inbreeding, diminishing the ability to adapt to environmental variations such as disease or even forest fires 🔥. Another threat is a possible drastic reduction in the lion's prey following a drought, for example.

Asiatic lion.

Asiatic lion.

A study carried out in the 1990s by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad and the Calcutta Zoological Surveillance has indeed shown that the level of genetic diversity of the species is very low. Research has also shown that low heterozygosity is responsible for a malformation of the spermatozoa found in 79% of the individuals studied, leading to infertility in many of them and jeopardizing the survival of the species. A few individuals with greater genetic variation have however been found outside the large known groups, giving the chance to increase genetic diversity through cross-breeding and conservation.

The Asiatic lion is also threatened by human intrusion into Gir Forest National Park : Maldhari herders are introducing their herds into the park, increasing the risk of their livestock being taken away by lions. Although compensated by the Indian state, tensions are high.

Protective measures for the Asiatic Lion.

This species is one of the most endangered mammalian species, and the Indian government has set up a reintroduction plan, known as the Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project, aimed in particular at preventing a single core population from being condemned to genetic erosion in a single forest.

An initial intensive conservation breeding programme came to an abrupt halt when research showed that the majority of the specimens used in this programme were hybridized from African lions ; indeed, only four individuals were true Asian lions. 5 Breeding was resumed with care for the original lions used.

History of protection actions.

Gir forest is the hunting reserve of Junagadh Nawab. In 1913, the Nawab decided to protect the Asiatic lion, whose population had fallen to about thirty individuals. In 1950, the population of the Gir forest 🌿reached 220 individuals. In 1957, a reintroduction in the wildlife sanctuary of Chandraprabha is attempted by the Indian government : two lionesses and a lion are introduced, multiply up to eleven individuals then mysteriously disappear in 1965. In 1972, important efforts are led by the Forest Department to reduce the quantity of livestock in the park and in the 1980s, the Asian lion population rises to 284 individuals in 1990 then to 304 individuals in 1995.

Axelle - Lion Republic writer.


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