India is very conscious of conservation of its wild felines. A new Gir lion report examines the 240 deaths recorded in a two-year period. The death toll does not alarm authorities. India Today says that is because the majority of deaths are from natural causes.
Authorities are instead looking at the “unnatural” deaths, which can include electrocutions, in an effort to reduce that part of the death toll.
Gir lions are also known as Persian lions (Panthera leo leo). They were once widespread over much of Asia. Today, they are restricted to India. Once nearly extinct their numbers are rebounding, but these lions are increasingly in conflict with an expanding Indian population.
Asiatic lions are very similar to African lions, although smaller than the larger lions on that continent. Asiatic males also have a shorter, sparser mane. Indian lions have more distinctive tufts of hair on their elbows and tails. One of the easier things to spot is a longitudinal skin fold under the belly absent on African lions.
The report was prepared for the Gujarat assembly. Gujarat is the state where the lions live, mostly in the Gir forest. Because their numbers have increased so much other reserves in the region have had to be set up. There is even discussion of moving some out of Gujarat into other parts of the country. Gujarat has resisted the move as it is proud of the lions. Gujarat is located on the west coast of India. Mumbai is probably its best-known city.
According to India Times:
“Of the 240 lions, 124 died in 2021 and 116 in 2022; 53 were male, 59 females and 128 cubs. At the outset, 240 deaths—36 per cent of the total lion population of 674—appears like a big figure, but a closer look reveals that given the known challenges of
the area and the increasing population, the death numbers are not alarming. “
The India Times continued:
“Wildlife experts and environmentalists working with the big cats claim that the death of 8-10 per cent of the total population of lions due to natural causes in a year is considered reasonable. Infighting, old age et al leads to these deaths. The mortality rate of cubs is 50 per cent or more, owing to cannibalism, hunger deaths and victims of infighting. “We should be focusing on the 26 unnatural deaths—13 every year. Accidents due to railway tracks running around, and in some cases even through the reserve forest areas, falling in open wells without parapets, getting electrocuted by illegal live wires put up by farmers to protect their crops are areas of concern. As population increases, territorial fights have also gone up, which is an indirect implication of human-wildlife conflict, but counted as ‘natural death’ by definition,” says a veteran conservationist advising the government on lion-related issues.”
Conflicts have resulted in human fatalities. Several children were killed recently, Authorities trapped 23 lions thought to be involved. Some were banished to Sakkarbaug Zoo. Others were gradually released. Sakkaurbaug Zoo was founded in 1863 and sits on 84 hectares (about 207 acres) of land.
India is home to 16 of the 37 species of wild felines. Gir lions and Bengal tigers are iconic symbols of the nation and the government is committed to protecting them.