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Gir Forest National Park

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.

Established in 1965, the total area of 1412 km² is located about 65 km to the south-east of Junagadh city of the Junagadh district in the kathiawar peninsula of Gujarat state, India.

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.

Climatic conditions

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.

Geography

Water reserves

The seven major perennial rivers of the Gir region are Hiran, Saraswati, Datardi, Shingoda, Machhundri, Ghodavari and Raval. The four reservoirs of the area are at four dams, one each on Hiran, Machhundri, Raval and Shingoda rivers, including the biggest reservoir in the area, the Kamleshwar Dam, dubbed 'the lifeline of Gir'.

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.

Flora

More than 400 plant species were recorded in the survey of Gir forest by Samtapau & Raizada in 1955. The Botany department of M.S. University of Baroda has revised the count to 507 during their survey. According to the 1964 forest type classification by Champion & Sheth, the Gir forest falls under "5A/C-1a—very dry teak forest" classification. Teak occurs mixed with dry deciduous species. The degradation stages (DS) sub-types are thus derived as: 1) 5/DS1-Dry deciduous scrub forest and 2) 5/DS1-Dry savannah forests (Locally known as "vidis"). It is the largest dry deciduous forest in western India.

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.

Wildlife

The count of 2,375 distinct fauna species of Gir includes about 38 species of mammals, around 300 species of birds, 37 species of reptiles and more than 2,000 species of insects.

The carnivores group mainly comprises Asiatic lions, Leopards, Jungle cat, Hyenas, Jackals, Mongoose, Civet cats, and Ratels. Desert cats and Rusty-spotted cats exist but are rarely seen.

The main herbivores of Gir are Chital, Nilgai (or Bluebull), Sambar, Four-horned Antelope, Chinkara and Wild boar. Blackbucks from the surrounding area are sometimes seen in the sanctuary.

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.

Asiatic Lion Habitat, Distribution and Population

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 Lion breeding programme and lion-counting

Year Count Male:Female:Cub
1968 177 -
1974 180 -
1979 205 76:100:85
1984 239 88:100:64
1990 284 82:100:67
1995 304 94:100:71
2000 327 -
2005 359 -
The Lion Breeding Programme creates and maintains breeding centres. It also carries out studies of the behaviour of the Asiatic lions and also practices artificial insemination. One such centre has been established in the Sakkarbaug Zoo at the district headquarters of Junagadh, which has successfully bred about 180 lions. 126 pure Asiatic lions have been given to zoos in India and abroad.

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.

Gir Interpretation Zone, Devalia

Gir National Park and Sanctuary does not have a designated area for tourists. However, to reduce the tourism hazard to the wildlife and to promote nature education, an Interpretation Zone has been created at Devalia within the sanctuary. Within its chained fences, it covers all habitat types and wildlife of Gir with its feeding-cum-living cages for the carnivores and a double-gate entry system. Typically the inside population of the zone includes about 100 spotted deer, about 100 Nilgai (or Bluebull), about 15 wild boars, about half a dozen sambars and blackbucks, and other mammal and reptilian species along with birds. In addition limited number of tourists are allowed into the sanctuary on designated routes. The best time to visit the area is outside the monsoon season.

Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project

Work has been going on over the past decade to establish the world's second completely removed population of the wild free ranging Asiatic Lions. Wildlife Institute of India researchers confirmed that the Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary is the most promising location to re-establish a free ranging population of the Asiatic lions and certified it ready to receive its first batch of translocated lions from Gir Wildlife Sanctuary where they are highly overpopulated. Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary was selected as the reintroduction site for critically endangered Asiatic lion because it is in the former range of the lions before it was hunted into extinction in about 1873..

Photographs

Photographs of Gir National Forest: http://picasaweb.google.co.in/chandrahas.dabke/GirForestGirnarMountain2023032008

See also

Notes

References

External links

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