Gir lions flourish, thanks to adjoining areas
The Lion King's successful conservation story is making international headlines. An academic paper titled 'A conservation success story in the otherwise dire megafauna extinction crisis: The Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) of Gir forest' that chronicles Gujarat's efforts in conserving the big cat has been printed in a Singapore-based magazine. The paper authored by Gujarat's senior IFS officer, HS Singh and Luke Gibson of the Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore brings out the stellar increase of the lions in the wild from its near extinction a century ago to a thriving 411 as per the census last year.
The paper points out that the availability of native ungulates and the lions' migrations to satellite areas around the sanctuary has tremendously helped to increase its population. "Protection of core and satellite habitats and the relocation of pastoral communities and their livestock triggered forest recovery and coincident increases in native prey populations. Wild ungulate populations increased by 10-fold between 1970 and 2010, supporting an increase in the lion population from 180 animals in 1974 to 411 animals in 2010," the paper states.
Dr Singh, a veteran forester and who has authored several books on the wildlife in Gujarat is an avid observer of trends. "Coincident with the increase of the ungulate population, lions shifted their predation preferences from a diet composed of 75% livestock to one composed of just 25% livestock. This example demonstrates the value of native prey populations to sustain imperiled carnivore species," Dr Singh has observed in his paper.
Another aspect pointed out as a reason for effective conservation is moving out the native pastoral communities (Maldharis) and their livestock outside the protected lion habitat.
However, the paper also remarks that, "Despite impressive recoveries of wild ungulates, recent increases in livestock populations in the Gir Conservation Area may limit the potential recovery of wild prey species and consequently the Asiatic lion."
"Another key aspect in the conservation of the Asiatic lion was their dispersal and the subsequent protection of surrounding satellite populations. Approximately one fourth of Asiatic Lions are located in protected satellite populations outside the Gir Conservation Area, and subsist primarily on wild prey species. The protection of these satellite habitats and the maintenance of corridors linking them to the core population in the Gir Conservation Area has allowed for the continued growth of this endangered species," the paper concludes.
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