The Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (also known as Sasan-Gir and गिर वन) is the sole home of the pure Asiatic Lions (Panthera leo persica). The Hindi name is "गिर वन". Measuring about 258 km² for the fully protected area (the National Park) and 1153 km² for the Sanctuary, the area 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 1900's by the then 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 2005 census recorded the lion-count in Gir at 359, an increase of 32 compared to 2001. The lion breeding programme covering the park and surrounding area has bred about 180 lions in captivity since its inception.
In addition to the two seasons of summer and winter, Gir has a tropical monsoon climate. It can become very hot during the summer, with noon temperature reaching 43 °C or 109 °F, and humid during the monsoon in June. In winter the temperature drops to about 10 °C or 50 °F. The normal monsoon starts from mid-June and lasts till September, with the annual rainfall ranging between 600 mm and 1000 mm. However, because of the irregular monsoon and uneven distribution of rainfall across the peninsula, drought years are common.
The park and the sanctuary remain open all year but the cool and dry weather between late-November and early-March is the recommended visiting period. During this period it is easier to sight the wildlife in the open.
During peak summer, surface water for wild animals is available at about 300 water points. When drought hits the area following a poor rainfall, surface water is not available at a majority of these points, and water scarcity becomes a serious problem (mainly in the eastern part of the sanctuary). Ensuring the availability of water during peak summer is one of the major tasks of the Forest Department staff.
Teak bearing areas are mainly in the eastern portion of the forest, which constitutes nearly half of the total area.
The forest is an important biological research area with considerable scientific, educational, aesthetic and recreational values. It provides nearly 5 million kilograms of green grass by annual harvesting, which is valued approximately at Rs. 50 crores (Rs. 500,000,000) (US$ 10 million). The forest provides nearly 15,000 metric tons worth of fuel wood annually.
Among the smaller mammals, Porcupine and Hare are common but the Pangolin is rare. The reptilians are represented by the mugger Marsh crocodile (highest population among all protected areas in India), the Indian Star Tortoise and the Monitor Lizard in the water areas of the sanctuary. Snakes are found in the bushes and forest. Pythons are sighted at times along the stream banks. Gir has been used by the Gujarat State Forest Department which adopted the Indian Crocodile Conservation Project in 1977 and released close to 1000 Marsh crocodile reared in Gir rearing centre into the Kamaleshwar lake and other reservoirs and small water bodies in and around Gir.
The plentiful avifauna population has more than 300 species of birds, most of which are resident. The scavenger group of birds has 6 recorded species of Vultures. Some of the typical species of Gir include Crested Serpent Eagle, endangered Bonelli's Eagle, Crested Hawk-eagle, Brown Fish Owl, Great Horned Owl, Bush Quail (or Quailbush), Pygmy Woodpecker, Black-headed Oriole, Crested Treeswift and Indian Pitta. The Indian Grey Hornbill was not found in the last census of 2001.
The Asiatic Lions habitat is dry scrubland and open deciduous forest. These lions were once found across northern Africa, south west Asia and northern Greece. Now there are only around 350 left in the wild and all of them are in the Gir Forest National Park.
Even though the Gir Forest is well protected, there are instances of Asiatic Lions being poached. They have also been poisoned for attacking livestock. Some of the other threats include floods, fires and the possibility of epidemics and natural calamities. Gir nonetheless remains the most promising long term preserve for the lions as they are thriving in the park.
The census of lions takes place every five years. Previously indirect methods like using pugmarks of the lion were adopted for the count. However, during the census of April 2005 (which originally was scheduled for 2006, but was advanced following the reports and controversy over vanishing tigers in India), "Block-Direct-Total Count" method was employed with the help of around 1,000 forest officials, experts and volunteers. It means that only those lions were counted that were "spotted" visually. Use of "live bait" (a prey that is alive and used as a bait) for the exercise, though thought to be a traditional practice, was not used this time. The reason believed to be behind this is the Gujarat High Court ruling of 2000 against such a use of animals.