Monday, May 03, 2010

India says numbers of Asiatic Lion rise

India says numbers of Asiatic Lion rise
AFP via Yahoo! Canada News

An endangered lion that survives only in the Gir Forest of western India has increased in number to more than 400 due to decades of conservation work, local officials said.

The Asiatic Lion once roamed across southwest Asia but is now restricted to the 1,410 square kilometre (545 square mile) Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary and surrounding jungle.

In the late 1960s only about 180 were thought to survive due to hunting.

A growth rate increase from up to seven percent in 2005 to almost 13 percent in 2010 was "remarkable," Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi told reporters on Sunday.

"According to the census at present there are 411 lions in the Gir forest," he added.

A count conducted last month found 162 mature females, 97 mature males, and 152 cubs.

Chief Conservator of Forests Pradeep Khanna said that the number of female and young lions was encouraging and the male to female ratio was a "very good indicator".

"The population composition was found to be healthy," Khanna said, adding that protection of wells had been an important part of improving the lions' habitat.

Government conservation schemes, anti-poaching measures and good grass growth were also credited with the lions' partial recovery.

The IUCN international register of endangered species rates the Asiatic Lion as a unique sub-species that was critically endangered in 2000. In 2008 it improved its assessment, describing the lion as endangered.

"Constant monitoring is required to ensure poaching levels do not increase; 34 animals were reported killed in 2007," it said in its latest report, adding some lions were reported to have died of drowning after falling down wells.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) also warned that as the lion survives in only one area it remained vulnerable to extinction from an epidemic or large forest fire.

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