The Asiatic Lion appears on the Emblem of India, in fact four of them appear back-to-back facing in four different directions. However, at present, the real Kings of the Jungle are looking in only one direction, that is, towards extinction.
We, humans, will not understand what extinction means, probably, even in all our lifetimes put together. Extinction is a very loosely thrown-around term, generally used by wannabes, who generally don’t understand the graveness of the situation. To put things into perspective, out of the five big cats found in India, three (The Royal Bengal Tiger, The Asiatic Lion, and The Snow Leopard) are endangered. Whereas, the Clouded Leopard, very rare, found in Assam is considered vulnerable. And the only wild cat know to be not threatened is the Indian Leopard, hastily running towards being vulnerable.
It is really hard to imagine a day, back in time, when the Lions roamed freely in the wilds of Gujarat to Bihar and Madhya Pradesh to Lahore. Add to that The Royal Bengals having their range across entire British India. Furthermore, dot this maze, of tigers and lions competing for kill, with a generous sprinkling of the Indian Leopards and you get the perfect recipe for The Jungle Book. More about the Jungle Book in upcoming write-ups about The Royal Bengals.
The Asiatic Lions are so extremely endangered that they might be gone before most Indians even begin to understand The Project Tiger itself. There are just about 411 of them, pocketed away in the south-west part of the peninsular state of Gujarat, near the ever-amazing Junagadh. Though this might sound good enough to some, the point is only 250+ of them are at breeding age.
Gir National Park is like a Bangalore or a Pune or any other metro; overcrowded. The difference is that we like to be confined, or at least we are okay with it. But a lion cannot be. These super beings daily face over-competition, lesser prey, encroachment by us, natural mortality, and of course, deep inbreeding. Inbreeding being the silent killer. And occasional poaching incident comes in as a generous gift from humanity.
These pressures are all too much for an already-cornered, fast-depleting population. To compare it to a more conceivable human perspective, try to Google Jarawa or Kalash (these are our next-door neighbors in evolutionary sense).
There are about 100,000 people living in various villages in and around Gir National Park with equal number of cattle. Now with lesser prey in the woods, the hunters venture out for a kill. Cattle leads them to us. And the graph of man-lion conflict generally is skewed in favor of humans.
Not that there is no good news at all, the Gujarat state has done an exemplary work in bringing them back from the brink of extinction. There were some 100 odd lions left around Independence, most of them dead due to game hunting. But, the situation remains grave.
The real boiling issue with the lions is lack of space. Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has recommended the forests of Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh as a site for favorable relocation, but now Gujarat State refuses to part with a few of these lions in fear of losing its tag of being the “only home of Asiatic Lions“. The Indian Supreme Court is actively monitoring this situation. However due to this situation, Kuno-Palpur has lost out on the timely reintroduction program of Cheetah, planned to be brought in from Africa. The Supreme Court says the relocation of Asiatic Lions should happen first followed by the Cheetah reintroduction. So if you see, Gujarat State is actually killing these majestic Kings of Jungle, to which it is a home.
The Gir Lions would probably give Roars of Distress calls for a new home in Kuno-Palpur, if they could or maybe they are, but are we listening?
Roars of Distress (Bangalore)