Gir: Last shelter of the Asian lion. Part 1

Gir is a nature reserve located northwest of India where the shrine of the Asian lions is located, a species in serious danger of extinction.

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In the province of Gujarat, in the Northeast of India, there is a semi-arid region with vegetation and landscape which resemble the savannahs of East Africa.

Inland, there is a 1,883 square kilometres national park which shelters and protects animals which are increasingly threatened by the incessant growth of the human population. This is a reserve for many Indian species, but it owes its status to one species in particular, the most powerful one in the region: the Asian lion.
Gir’s ecosystem has attained significant stability since the park was created. Once man’s capacity to destroy was halted, its ability to regenerate itself has returned to previous high levels, thereby allowing 32 species of mammals, 26 species of reptiles and 300 species of birds to thrive.

The dry, deciduous forest and the tall grasses of the gentle hills of Gir are the last refuge of the Asian lion, a subspecies which once could be found in many parts of Asia, from the South of Greece to India, and now only exists here in Gir, in the National Park, which was specially created to save it from extinction.

More than 300 Asian lions enclosed in their small, little-known, Indian sanctuary conserve the genetic make-up inherited from the legendary Assyrian Lions. Man has driven them to the verge of extinction, but paradoxically it is thanks to their relation with the indigenous people of this area that the Asian lions have survived in the forest of Gir.

All of this region has a monsoon climate which is very hot during the dry season. The temperature range is from 10ºC in winter to 43ºC in summer. The monsoon rains vary a great deal from year to year and it is not uncommon for droughts to mark the landscape.

When there is little rain, the seven permanent water courses in Gir dry up. To avoid this disaster those in charge of the park have built four reservoirs in four of the main rivers. These act as a water reserve for the thirsty fauna during the summers in Gir as well as enabling some fish and large marsh crocodiles to live there.

The water does not only maintain the population of wild animals. Everyday the flocks of the maldharis arrive at the banks of the rivers and lakes. These people who make their living rearing livestock were a part of the eco-system long before the park was created.

The maldharis live in small settlements surrounded by thorny fences known as “nesses”. In the past when the region was rich in pastures and had abundant supplies of water, the maldharis had large flocks spread out over a wide area. The progressive loss of pasture caused by population increase and the demands of the livestock made the 129 nesses in Gir an imminent danger to the wild herbivores and consequently to the eco-system as a whole. When the park was created, a large number of the 845 maldhari families were rehoused outside the protected area and today there are 361 families housed in 54 nesses still remaining inside the park.

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