Lion density most in eastern Gir, away from tourists
It's 16 In East Gir Compared To 12 In Tourist Zone
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik
The next time you go to Gir, it might be worth your while to drive through the eastern reaches of this sanctuary. Chances of spotting the big cats and their prides are much more in the eastern sector of Gir – the only abode of Asiatic Lions in the country.
A study "Social Organization and Dispersal of Asiatic Lions" has revealed that Gir East has more lion density than the tourism zone of Gir West. Even the size of lion prides in the eastern part is larger compared to that in West and Central Gir sanctuary.
According to the study, density of 16 lions per 100 sq km was highest in Gir East. In Gir West, the lion population is 12 lions per 100 sq km and in Gir Central it is eight.
The study was conducted by Yadvendradev V Jhala head of the department animal ecology and conservation biology of the Wildlife Institute of India, Ravi Chellam former director of Wildlife Conservation Society-India and Bharat Pathak, director of Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation.
Jhala told TOI that Central Gir has hilly terrain and is a non-productive area as far as lions' prey is concerned. But East and West had a good population of livestock and this is the reason why concentration here is more compared to the other parts. "Dense, moist forest area is the most preferred habitat while broken terrain and relatively arid areas are generally avoided by these big cats," said Jhala.
The study, which covered 1,883 sq km of Gir's protected area, revealed that the area has a healthy growing population of lions. Jhala and his team found that the lions spent most of their time resting or sleeping. But a territorial male spent majority of his active time in advertising, marking and protecting his territory. Territory advertising included roaring and patrolling and was done primarily in the early morning and late evening hours.
The study also brought out a fact that the size of the pride in Gir East was bigger then that of Gir West. He said that killing of big cattle was an indication of the size of the pride. H S Singh, additional chief conservator of forest (social forestry), said that the eastern areas have more grasslands than that in the Gir West. He said that tree density was also more in Gir West compared to Gir East. "This is also one of the main reasons why the big cats prefer the eastern parts of Gir. Grasslands are their favoured habitat," said Singh. He added that the lions used Gir East as the gateway to venture into other Bhavnagar and neighbouring places.
'Natural causes behind 66% deaths'
The study revealed 66 per cent of lion deaths reported from the sanctuary were owing to natural causes. Of the remaining 34 per cent, 21 per cent deaths were because of accidents while the cause for the rest are undetected. According to the researchers, 60 per cent of cub mortality was owing to infanticide by male lions, while 26 per cent was natural causes. The rest of the deaths were owing to abandonment.
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