Species Action Plan: Asiatic Lion

This beautiful subspecies of lion deserves a species action plan! Here is one I made during my BSc at Imperial College London.

Species and Habitat Status

The Asiatic lion Panthera leo persica
Due to hunting and habitat loss, the Asiatic lion’s distribution has become restricted to Gir, Junagadh District, Gujarat, India. This subspecies of lion exists as a single population and is endangered, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.


Figure 1. Asiatic lion and lioness (Tipling, 2012)

Gir Conservation Area (GCA) and Satellite areas
Over the past 4 decades, habitat loss was reduced by relocating 592 out of 714 of Maldharis communities (figure 2) out of the GCA.

Mitiyala and Girnar Sanctuaries were created to protect satellite areas. Conservartion of the Gir forest and surrounding areas has led to the population growth of Asiatic lion from 18 in 1893 to 411 in 2010.


Figure 2. Maldharis herding livestock. The Maldharis are a pastoral people, whose livestyle and livestock compete with native species and degrade the Gir forest (Gir Jungle Resort, 2011)

Threatening Processes

Population of Asiatic lions, in the wild and in captivity, is approximately less than 600. In the light of disease, this number is small. Diseases such as canine distemper virus (CDV) are likely to doom asiatic lions to extinction.  A CDV epidemic in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, led to the demise of approximately 1000 lions in 1994. As CDV is a major disease in domestic dogs, lion proximity to human populations endangers them to domestic dog exposure

Habitat loss
Maldharis combine livestock dung with Gir forest topsoil to sell as fertiliser. The forest is exploited for wood fuel.

Ecological and demographic stochasticity
Population Viability Analysis of Girnar lions predicts that migration between Gir and Girnar is vital to resist inbreeding depression and environmental stochasticity in the Girnar Sanctuary. Yet, the land connecting satellites to the GCA are not protected.

Drought is the most common reason for human-lion conflict because it causes lions to migrate out of the GCA and makes livestock easier prey. Hunting or poisoning often occur as retaliation.

Inbreeding Depression
The current lions are descended from 18 individuals from 1893. Inbreeding depression can make them susceptible to disease.

Current management

Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary
Reintroducion of lions to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary to form a second population has been planned since 1993. In 2004 the park was cleared as ready to receive the first lions. However, conflicts of interest have prevented the plans to fruition.

Mitigating Habitat Loss
Gas is provided at reduced costs to locals and Maldharis. Exploitation for wood fuel continued regardless, as the gas was not used but sold.

Mitigating Inbreeding Depression
As of 2011, 154 Asiatic lions exist in Indian zoos. With 50 years of management 90% of genetic diversity can be preserved and surplus lions used for reintroduction.

Mitigating Human-Lion conflict
Reduce human-wildlife conflict by increasing water availability in appropriate regions.

Future management

Conservation Priorities:
1. To bring to fruition the reintroduction of Asiatic lion to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary
2. To prevent CDV outbreaks in lions by inoculating lions and domestic dogs against CDV in and around the GCA
3. To provide Maldharis communities alternative economic gains of less ecological impact
4. To maintain viability of satellite populations by protecting corridors and/or reintroducing surplus captive lions
5. To increase the captive population to 600 while maintaining genetic diversity

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