BEST SEEN AT: Gir National Park, Gujarat
STATUS: Critically Endangered/ Schedule I*
GOOD TO KNOW: Lions sometimes need to copulate about 500 times to successfully produce a litter
ONCE UPON a time, the Asiatic lion ruled the wilds from Syria to India — in fact, the Mughal Emperor Jehangir details his encounter with the animal at Palam, the current venue for the International Airport in New Delhi. Rampant hunting and largescale deforestation would have forced the animal into extinction in the late 18th century, but for the Nawab of Junagadh in Gujarat, who manipulated figures to detract hunters. You could call it a conservation success story — from a mere two dozen at the turn of the 18th century to some 325- odd lions today, if only in 1,400 km of the dry scrub forest of Gir. Poaching is another threat, with lion bones in demand in China. The Asiatic lion is especially vulnerable to disease since it descends from a gene pool of the same two dozen left at the end of the 18th century. An outbreak of disease could wipe out the entire population. The lions must be shared with Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh, an alternate habitat that’s already been prepared. Unfortunately, Gujarat refuses to part with ‘its’ lions, and a Damoclean sword hangs over the fate of this rare charismatic cat.
PRERNA SINGH BINDRA