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Sasan Gir Lion Sanctuary

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This famous Lion sanctuary lies at the bottom of the Saurasktra peninsula in the western state of Gujurat. Terrain is rugged and hilly particularly in the northern and western areas with the Gir hills, a low lying range of volcanic origin. The forest is generally of a tropical dry deciduous type, with teak as the principal species forming up to 70% of the crop.

The Gir lion sanctuary project was initiated in 1972 with one of its main objectives being to remove the local indigenous people (Maldharis) from the interior of the park. The reason for the displacement of this devoutly religious pastoral community was their on-going conflict with the Gir Lions.Lion interested in jeep

In the distant past plenty of water and grazing was available in Gir and the Maldharis and the magnificent Asiatic Lions co-existed with little conflict. Lions in the main were not interested in domestic livestock and the Maldharis were able to protect their stock with relative ease. Prior to and after Independence conditions in Gir deteriorated rapidly to the detriment both of the Maldharis and the Lions. Widespread destruction of private forests was initiated when the owners got wind of the likely takeover of their forest by the newly formed state government. This was followed by hydro-electric projects, which involved the mass clearance of forests, for example the Ukai project in South Gujurat which involved the sacrifice of 40,000 hectares of teak forest.

Habitat loss as with all the parks in India is usually the catalyst for conflict between local people and the resident wildlife. Good quality grazing became more scarce and financial inducements were offered to the Maldharis to allow illegal entry to the park of large numbers of cattle, many of which came from areas far from the park. This huge increase in cattle and buffalo was a bonanza for the lion prides who were losing a lot of their prey species such as Chitel and Sambar due to habitat destruction. The lions completely changed their eating habits to almost exclusively hunt the domestic livestock and the conflict was born. Soon after on a regular basis, entire prides of lions were found dead in the park by forest guards, the victims of poisoning by disgruntled herdsmen.

Sasan Gir Lion sanctuary is definitely one of India's success stories. From a pitifully small number of around twenty lions at the turn of the century there are now approximately three hundred lions in the park. If you compare this number to the populations of 20 to 30 tigers in most Project Tiger parks you can see that your chance of a lion sighting (with a reasonable length of stay) is good. In fact the park is not big enough to support the current population and two smaller populations have established to the south and north of the park boundaries. It is doubtful in the long run if these two populations will survive due to the fragmented habitat and human population pressures in these areas. Gir is also home to one of the largest leopard populations in any park in India, and especially in the hotter season they can sometimes be seen at night close to the lodges. Other wildlife to look out for are the Four-Horned Antelope (which is the only four-horned ungulate in the world), Wild Boar, Wolf, Hyena, Jackal, Jungle Cat, Chinkara, Blue Bull, Marsh Muggers as well as a wonderful variety of bird species.

The park is one of the best protected sanctuaries in India with as many as eight hundred guards patrolling the entire park. When they are not looking out for illegal grazers or cutters they are filling up the numerous artificial water holes. These are vital in periods of drought for the lions prey species which have rapidly increased in number under the protection of the park authorities. The lions feeding habits have changed back to a 'normal' pattern with wild ungulates accounting for seventy percent of their kills.

Not all of the Maldhari population has been relocated and several populations survive in the park. They live in scattered settlements called 'nesses' consisting of six to seven houses. They protect their cattle and buffalo at night by herding them in to enclosures made out of thorn. They still lose some livestock to the lions during the day as their livestock are moved around the park for grazing. The Maldharis live a nomadic way of life and are strictly vegetarian. Sale of their dairy products is the mainstay of their economy. They sell ghee in nearby towns as well as dung manure produced from their livestock.

Another fascinating aspect of Gir is that it is also home to several Negro families (locally know as Siddis). They only marry within their own community, are Muslim and speak the local language which is Gujurati. They have no real knowledge of agriculture but under the Government Assisted Scheme for tribal persons have become landowners in their own right. There seems to be very little information on where they came from originally and any knowledge of an African language has disappeared. One story is that the Naweb of Junagadh visited Africa at the end of the 18th century and brought back some slaves. This community of pure African origin then settled in Jambur next to the Lion Sanctuary.

The park is open from mid October and wildlife viewing is by jeep. The park is best reached by internal flight from Mumbai (Bombay) to Rajkot followed by a relatively comfortable car transfer. There are a number of unique and fascinating cultural sites nearby.

 

 Bandhavgarh

 Kanha

Ranthambhore

Corbett

 Bharatpur

 Pench

 Sasan Gir

Kaziranga 

Panna
    

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