Once wide-ranging, Asiatic lions are now reduced to a remnant population in India’s state of Gujarat. There are an estimated 560 individuals, and Indian state and local wildlife authorities are faced with mounting challenges as the region changes. As a whole, India is faced with increasing challenges in protecting its wildlife as the country urbanizes and its economy grows. Indian conservation challenges have been featured on this site here and here.
Gujarat is growing economically and so is its population. The Gir National Park is about 1, 400 square kilometers, far too small for the hundreds of wide-ranging lions inhabiting the park. About half are believed to live out of the park. This is generating more human-lion interaction and conflict leading to poaching and traffic accidents by humans and increased,man-eating by lions who have trouble locating enough food in the constricted area. Calls are increasing for transfer of Gir lions to other national parks, but that change has been slow coming. Recently Gujarat agreed to a swap of Asiatic lions between two zoos. The two breeding lions were exchanged for two Bengal Tigers. Agreement to the exchange took about four years, illustrating time frames involved in making changes.
Asiatic lions once ranged from Turkey to eastern India but were decimated by growing human populations. Concerted effort by Indian authorities brought them back from the verge of extinction. They are slightly smaller than African lions. The males have a shorter, more sparse and darker mane. Their ears are almost always visible. The males do not generally stay with the females except at mating time and when there are large kills. The most distinguishing feature is a fold of skin along the belly absent in African lions.