The Gir sanctuary, in the West End Indian state of Gujarat is the only natural habitat of Asiatic lions in the entire planet. Post independence, the wild populations of Asiatic lions were pushed to the brink of extinction. However, outstanding conservation management for few decades by the local forest department and conservation agencies for decades protected the vulnerable species to a healthy 500+ stable population. But it is important to note that the sanctuary has currently reached it’s Carrying Capacity and is overcrowded with very heavy lion density per sq km and is now detrimental to support this vulnerable rare species due to overcrowding, lack of adequate prey base and strong competitions among various lion prides sharing the over stretched habitat. Numerous reports of lion prides moving into adjacent villages, highways and towns have been circulating in the media and is a sure indicator of lion overpopulation in the Gir sanctuary.
For decades international wildlife experts and international conservation agencies have been warning both Gujarat and Indian governments that this is a recipe for future disaster. A widespread communicable disease or a natural and/or anthropogenic disasters like forest fire, earthquake, flood or a related catastrophic incident can easily wipe out the entire populations of Asiatic lions. There is also the risk of developing a serious genetic bottleneck that could result in a future population crash. also Hence additional suitable lion habitats both within and outside Gujarat is the call of the time to protect this rare big wild cat species found no where else in the world.
Unfortunately, no care has been taken regarding this warning. The childish and inconsiderate attitude of the Gujarat state government to be on the global tourism circuit by promoting Gir sanctuary and the state as the only natural habitat for Asiatic lions have been unfortunately pushing the species towards extinction. Couple years back animals were unfortunately lost to unprecedented flooding in the area and still no lesson has been learnt. Recently, death of 21 lions in past 18 days have been confirmed by the state government possibly due to some biological disease most possibly a viral infection. If this continues a substantial proportion of the lion populations may be lost.
Unless various prides are separated and relocated in suitable additional habitats with urgent conservation planning and management, the lions may be lost forever. The Gujarat government has been regarded as the conservation guru around the globe for their success in conservation of Asiatic lions. But today they stand responsible for the danger to this vulnerable species due to their childish politics as well as poor and selfish vision and strategy for promoting the state as the only natural habitat for Asiatic lions. If the Indian government does not take a drastic step to relocate a substantial part of the lion populations to alternative suitable habitats to reduce impacts of overcrowding in the Gir sanctuary, they will stand responsible to the global communities for their failure to protect a majestic species from near extinction. Please act now before it is too late!