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Biodiversity & Environment

Rise in the Population of Asiatic Lions

  • 11 Jun 2020
  • 6 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Gujarat Forest Department has announced an increase in the population of Asiatic lions in the Gir forest region.

  • Total 674 lions were recorded compared to the 523 in the Lion Census of 2015.
  • The count was estimated from a population observation exercise called Poonam Avlokan in place of the 15th Lion Census.
    • The 15th lion census was due to be conducted on 5th and 6th June, but was postponed indefinitely due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
    • Poonam Avlokan is a monthly in-house exercise carried out every full moon. It was a mechanism developed by the Forest Department in 2014 as part of preparations for the 2015 Lion Census.

Key Points

  • Numerical Analysis:
    • The lion population has grown by almost 29% from the last count in 2015.
      • The lion population in the state of Gujarat has doubled since 2001.
    • Moreover, the distribution of the lions has expanded from 22,000 sq. km in 2015 to 30,000 sq. km in 2020.
      • Thus, the geographical distribution area for Gir forests’s lions has been increased by 36%.
  • Significance of 2020 Count:
    • The 2015 Census had counted 523 lions, up from 411 in 2010.
      • But 12 lions were killed in a flash flood in Amreli just a month after the 2015 Census.
    • The deaths of lions in 2015 was followed by deaths of more than two dozen lions in an outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) and babesiosis in 2018.
      • Babesia is a tiny parasite that infects red blood cells and is usually transmitted by a tick bite. Infection with Babesia is called babesiosis.
    • Additionally, the babesiosis outbreak was also reported in Gir in 2020, and around two dozen lions were reported to be killed.
  • Reasons for Increase:
    • Over the last several years, the lion population in Gujarat has been steadily rising.
    • This increase has been powered by community participation, emphasis on technology, wildlife healthcare, proper habitat management and steps to minimise human-lion conflict.

Regular Lion Census

  • History:
    • The first Lion Census was conducted by the Nawab of Junagadh in 1936.
    • Since 1965, the Forest Department has been regularly conducting the Lion Census every five years.
  • Procedure:
    • Time Period:
      • The regular Lion Census is conducted once every five years. The last Census was conducted in 2015.
      • The Lion Census usually runs for more than two days, including a preliminary census and a final census.
      • However, the Poonam Avlokan is carried out for 24 hours assessing the number of lions and their locations in their respective jurisdictions.
    • Participation:
      • The Forest Department invites NGOs, experts and wildlife enthusiasts to join the Census for transparency and augmenting manpower.
      • Whereas the Poonam Avlokan exercise is conducted only by forest staff.
      • Thus, the Lion Census experiences larger participation of the people compared to the Poonam Avalokan exercise.
    • Methodology Used:
      • The Lion Census is done using the block counting method — in which census enumerators remain stationed at water points in a given block and estimate abundance of lions in that block, based on direct sighting of lions who need to drink water at least once in 24 hours during the summer.
      • Under Poonam Avlokan exercise, the teams keep moving in their respective territories and make their estimates based on inputs provided by lion trackers and on chance sightings.

Gir National Park

  • The Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the Junagadh district of Gujarat.
  • The Gir Forests is the only natural habitat of Asiatic lions. It was declared as a sanctuary in 1965 and a national park in 1975.
  • Gir is often linked with "Maldharis" who have survived through the ages by having a symbiotic relationship with the lions.
    • Maldharis are religious pastoral communities living in Gir. Their settlements are called "nesses".

Protection for Asiatic Lions

  • Protection Status:
    • IUCN Red List: Endangered
    • CITES: Appendix I
    • Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972: Schedule I
  • Conservation Efforts:
    • The “Asiatic Lion Conservation Project” has been launched by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
    • The project has been approved for three financial years from 2018 to 2021.
    • The project envisages scientific management with the involvement of communities in coordination with multi-sectoral agencies for disease control and veterinary care for overall conservation of Asiatic lions.

Way Forward

  • Earlier, the lions from the gir forest had faced the threat of extinction but timely intervention has shown extraordinary recovery.
  • Lions have recorded a healthy growth in population due to effective conservation and management efforts by the state government with support from the Centre.
  • Further, more focussed protection programmes and health care programmes need to be implemented to control diseases like CDV, babesiosis which continue to take lives of lions from the Gir forest.

Source:PIB

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