Monday, January 14, 2013

Lions prefer moist and shady areas: Study

Lions prefer moist and shady areas: Study
Times of India

Contrary to the popular belief that lions prefer savanna grassland, the king of the jungle here in Gir National Park likes moist shady habitats instead. Main reason is that there are several human eyes keeping a watch on him. The human activities in the form of livestock grazing, collection of fodder and fuel wood is what is harassing the Asiatic lions in its last abode; Gir National Park. This is forcing the creature to spend the entire day in moist and shady habitats which provide them respite from such human interference.

This was revealed in the study 'Home range and habitat preference of female lions (Panthera leo persica) in Gir forests, India' carried out by Yadvendradev V Jhala, Shomen Mukherjee, Nita Shah, Kartikeya S Chauhan, Chittranjan V Dave, Kausik Banerjee and V Meena who are associated with the Wildlife Institute of India.

The study stated that during daytime, lions seek moist and shady habitats that provide respite from the heat as well as hide them from human activities. At nights, some lions venture into agricultural fields in search of livestock.

The analysis reveals that moist mixed forest habitats are critical lion habitats in Gir as they are limited in their availability and provide the much needed cover during the most stressful time of the day.

The study further stated that some parts of Gir have plantations of teak due to timber production done earlier. "These could be selectively thinned and planted with miscellaneous species like Zizyphus spp, Carissa conjesta, Acacia spp and Terminalia spp among others. These species have forage value for wild ungulates and will likely increase the nutritional carrying capacity for native wild ungulates which in turn will be beneficial for lions," stated the study.

There is a public perception of lions and their habitats that are vastly influenced by wildlife films made in East Africa as well as the pioneering research done in the Serengeti. These studies and films depict lions as inhabitants of open savannah in contrast to Gir where lions live in forested habitats. "Such accounts of lion habitats have given birth to a view that the current habitat in Gir is not ideal for lions and some management interventions may be needed to open up the forest canopy for creating conditions similar to savannahs of East Africa. But the data and analysis suggests just the opposite as lions were observed to prefer the most mesic and thick canopy forest available to them in the dry deciduous forests of Gir."

The study stated that overall, the lionesses were found to use Teak-Acacia-Zizyphus-Anogeissus habitat the most and the agricultural areas the least. During daytime, the most used habitat was Teak-Acacia-Zizyphus-Anogeissus habitat followed by the moist mixed forest type. Lions were not observed in agricultural fields during the day. During night, lions were found using Teak-Acacia-Zizyphus-Anogeissus habitat the most and even ventured into agricultural fields. The Teak-Acacia-Zizyphus-Anogeissus habitat type also had the maximum extent comprising over 40 per cent of Gir forest.

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