The country got a reason on Sunday to be proud of its prides: its lions have recorded a 27% population growth in five years.
Figures from a May headcount by the Gujarat forest officials at Gir national park, home to the world’s last surviving members of Asiatic lions, indicated a brisk baby boom that counteracts the population slump in Africa — the only other place where these kings of the jungle are found.
“We have registered a robust growth in our lion population … from 411 in 2010 to 523 now, which means a growth of 27%,” chief minister Anandiben Patel said, releasing the figures at Gir in Junagadh district.The count revealed 213 cubs — "the future" as wildlife lovers would say, attributing the success to concerted conservation efforts.
Asiatic lions inhabit Gir’s approximately 22,000 square km expanse, spread over eight districts in the Saurashtra region, though they roared and roamed in much of North India until 1880. But they got cooped in a small area as the princely indulgence for game hunting during and before the British Raj as well as environmental changes decimated hundreds of prides.
“There are 268 lions in Junagadh district, 44 in Somnath, 174 in Amreli and 47 in Bhavnagar. The highest growth rate has been seen in Amreli district,” Patel said.
A symbol of Gujarat’s pride, it gives Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet Make in India initiative a unique identity: a mechanised, cogwheel lion logo.
The state stubbornly refuses to share its lions with anyone, not even neighbouring Madhya Pradesh which had requested for translocation of some animals at a special park built for the purpose. So dogged was the resistance that the Gujarat government was unfazed by a Supreme Court ruling favouring Madhya Pradesh’s request to rear a few lions from Gir.
“Lions are found only in Africa and Gujarat. The African population dwindled almost 80% from around 200,000 to less than 30,000 over the past century. We have protected and conserved our lions from extinction,” said Sandeep Kumar, deputy conservator of forest, Gir national park.