Gir: Last shelter of the Asian lion. Part 3

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 1965, when the Gir region was made into a sanctuary for wild animals, the eco-system was already depleted. 21.000 livestock animals grazed on the dry fields and this number tripled during the monsoon. 90% of the grass was consumed by domestic animals which made life difficult for the wild herbivores which were also infected with diseases carried by the livestock. But with the work of the Lion of Gir Project, the situation has improved.

Now the eco-system has regenerated itself and the population of herbivores has become healthier. The nilgais, the biggest antelopes in Asia are numerous in all the region. Locally, they are known as “blue cows”, a name which has saved them from the greed of the hunters in a country where the cow is a sacred animal.

Among the herbivores of Gir there are also sambars, chitals and chikara gazelles, antelopes with four horns, and a small population of black antelopes. Before India became independent the black antelope was the most common wild animal in the country. But in spite of being a sacred animal for the Vishnois and the Valas and in spite of being Krishna’s favourite antelope and a national emblem of India, its population has fallen from over 4 million down to about 25.000 in all of the country.

The balance between predators and prey keeps the forest of Gir in a permanent state of renewal. The vegetation and different species of animals vary considerably according to the typology of the park giving rise to two distinct areas.

Carnivores have hardly any natural enemies inside the park and their sharpened senses allow them to obtain food even though it is as well-hidden as a cicada in the grass.

 The Gir visitors’ centre has been set up, in a fenced-off area of 412 hectares inside the sanctuary in the Devalia area. This includes an example of all the different habitats to be found in the park as well as its most characteristic animals. It is a synthesis of the forest of Gir which reduces the burden on the park of tourism and enables those visitors who cannot spend more than one or two days at the reserve to see the most interesting animals.

The number of lions in Gir has outgrown the capacity of the park and the struggle for territory has intensified. 4 or 5 satellite populations have moved to the outlying areas of Gir and the new males that reach adulthood are drawn to the 412 hectare area of the visitors’ centre where only one male lives.

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