Sasan Gir

Sasan-Gir also known as The Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is a forest and wildlife sanctuary inGujarat, India. Established in 1965, with a total area of 1412 km² (about 258 km² for the fully protected area (the national park) and 1153 km² for the Sanctuary), the park is located 43 km in the north-east from Somnath , 65 km to the south-east of Junagadh and 60 km to south west of Amreli.

     It is the sole home of the Asiatic Lions (Pantheraleopersica) and is considered to be one of the most important protected areas in Asia due to its supported species. The ecosystem of Gir, with its diverse flora and fauna, is protected as a result of the efforts of the government forest department, wildlife activists and NGOs. The forest area of Gir and its lions were declared as “protected” in the early 1900s by the Nawab of the princely state of Junagadh. This initiative assisted in the conservation of the lions whose population had plummeted to only 15 through slaughter for trophy hunting.

     The April 2010 census recorded the lion-count in Gir at 411, an increase of 52 compared to 2005. The lion breeding programme covering the park and surrounding area has bred about 180 lions in captivity since its incepti

History of Sasan Gir

     Formerly the hunting reserve of the Nawabs of Junagadh, Gir Forest is the largest compact tract of dry deciduous forest in Gujarat and the only abode of the Asiatic Lion in the world. Protection was first given in 1900, when lion numbers were down to a mere 12 individuals! By 1936, the number had increased to 250 animals and today there are a little over 400 individuals. Gir was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1965 and given National Park status ten years later.

     Besides the Asiatic Lion, Gir supports a large population ofLeopard, and other carnivores include Jungle Cat, Jackal, Striped Hyena, Common and Ruddy mongoose. The herbivores include Sambar, Chital, Nilgai, Chowsingha, Chinkara and Wild Boar.

     Over 300 bird species have been recorded here. These include the Shaheen Falcon, Bonelli’s Eagle, Great Horned Owl, Tawny eagle and Blackwinged Kite. Grey and Jungle Bush Quail, Grey Partridge, Nightjar, Black-headed Cuckoo Shrike, Gray Drongo, Pied Woodpecker, Black Ibis, and White-necked Stork are also found at Gir.

     As with so many of India’s best parks, Gir was once a princely hunting reserve, in this case of the Nawabs of Junagadh. Though reduced to less than a third of its former size over the last century or so, the Gir Forest is today the largest compact tract of dry deciduous forest in Saurashtra (Gujarat) and the only abode of theAsiatic Lion (Panthera leopersica) in the world. Although the Lions number a little over 300 individuals today their story represents one of the more successful conservation efforts of the past century.

     By the turn of the 19th Century the once widespread Asiatic Lion had been reduced to a few tattered population groups across its range of which the Gir was one. By 1880, with an estimated 12 individuals, this population was at its lowest ebb. The Nawab of Junagadh, recognised the importance of saving the Lions and from 1900 imposed a ban on hunting them. It was touch and go but by 1920 the Lions had recovered to about 50 individuals and by 1936 the number had increased dramatically to 250 animals. By the mid 1940’s the last Lions in Iraq/Iran had vanished and the Lions of Gir were the sole remaining representatives of the Asiatic subspecies. To the Nawab and his advisors must go the credit for their salvation. A story, perhaps apocryphal, demonstrates the resolve needed to accomplish this.

     The all-powerful Viceroy of India made known his desire to ‘bag’ a Lion. Bound by the iron laws of hospitality (and political expediency), the Nawab was forced to accede but was loath to lose one of his precious Lions. Western India and Gujarat had a millennia long tradition of trade with Africa and it was to those shores that the Nawab turned for a solution. Secret arrangements were made and when the distinguished party arrived, the largest, most majestically maned Lion was presented to the viceregal guns. Honour was thus satisfied on both sides and goodwill maintained without the sacrifice of either state law or endangered Gir Lion.

     In post-Independence India the Gir Forest came within the boundaries of the State of Gujarat which continued with the policies of the erstwhile Junagadh state. The forest was constituted a Wildlife Sanctuary on 18 September, 1965 expressly for the purpose of preserving the Lions. In 1975, an area of 150 was declared a National Park and in 1978 expanded to 259 In 1984 the surrounding forests were declared a Wildlife Sanctuary and this combined area today forms the Lion Reserve with the National Park as the core area

     A cattle-herding group known as the Maldharis (Mal-livestock and Dhari – guardian) has long inhabited the forests of Gir. For decades these people, living in their thorn-barricaded settlements called nes have shared the habitat with the Lions despite losing some livestock. Empirical evidence suggests that their re-settlement outside of the National Park boundary has resulted in the regeneration of the forest, improvement of prey densities and a consequent change in the Lion’s diet. This now comprises a much higher percentage of wild prey than domestic cattle although, due to the increase in the Lion population this may not translate into a reduction of the actual quantity of livestock killed. However, many continue to live in the Sanctuary area and with the shortage of land their re-settlement seems unlikely in the near future. On the fringes of the forest are another curious group of people known as the Siddis. These, people are of pure African descent and, although they have adopted Gujarati dress, language and food, bear testimony to the close ties that have existed between Gujarat and the east coast of Africa.