Asiatic Lions - Panthera
(Panthera leo persica
) are on
the brink of extinction with less than 200-350 residing
in a protected area of the Gir Protected Area (GPA)
within the bounds of the Gir National Park & Gir
Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat, India. The Asiatic lion
is a genetically distinct subspecies of lion. It is
estimated that the Asiatic lion only separated from
the African population of Panthera leo recently in
terms of evolution (100,000 years ago).
The biggest visual difference besides size between the two
subspecies is a longitudinal skin fold that runs down the
belly of persica. This characteristic is always seen in the
Asiatic lion and only rarely in the African. Another physical
characteristic setting them apart is that the male Asiatic
lion has a substantially smaller mane on the top of his head.
The mane is sparse enough that the lion's ears are exposed
and visible. In comparison the African lion's mane is so
thick that it obscures its ears completely. Perhaps the most
interesting anatomical difference between the two surviving
subspecies of lions lies within their skulls. The skull of
the Asiatic lion possesses two small apertures or holes that
allow the passage of nerves and blood vessels to the eyes.
The skulls of African lions only have one hole on either
side. Asiatic lions have smaller prides and territories than
the African lion averaging only 2-3 females per male.
Range & Habitat
The Asiatic lion population has been reduced to near Extinct
numbers by the early 20th century. Records indicate that by
1949, less than 100 individual Asiatic lions inhabited the
region. The Nawab of Junagadh protected the last 100 Asiatic
lions in his private hunting grounds in the Gir Forest of western
India. The latest census as of June 30, 2004 counted 327 individuals
within the confines of the GPA (Gir Protected Area). Now a
second population of Asiatic lion exists in captivity. As of
1994, only 82 captive pure Asiatic lions existed globally,
with 23 held outside of India. The entire population of captive
animals held in western zoos originated from only five founder
animals resulting in little genetic diversity with only three
pure bred Asiatic founders. With territory in short supply,
lions prowl the periphery of the forest and even leave it altogether,
often clashing with people. That’s one reason India is
creating a second sanctuary. Other pressing reasons are outbreaks
of disease or natural disasters. In 1994 canine distemper killed
more than 1,000 or 1/3 of Africa’s Serengeti lions, a
fate that could easily befall Gir’s Asiatic Lions due
to their lack of genetic diversification which evolution is
supposed to help conquer. Asiatic Lions exist in very limited
numbers in captivity. Breeding programs sponsored by the European
Breeding Programme (EEP) were established in 1990
to lay the foundation outside of the SSP breeding program in
maintain a genetically "pure" Asiatic Lion breeding
Scientific Name: Panthera leo persica
Range: The only Asiatic occurring naturally are 300+ highly
protected lions residing in the GPA.
Female: 120 -180kg (264 - 396 pounds)
Male: 150 -250kg (330 - 550 pounds)
Female: 1.4-1.75m (4'-6"-5'-9") with tail approximately 70-105cm
(2'-3"-3'-6") in length
Male: 1.7- 2.5m (5'-6"-8'-3") " " " " " "
Diet: All lions are carnivorous. Asiatic Lion prey consists mostly of deer,
antelope, wild boar and water buffalo.
Unfortunately due the encroachment of humans and loss of natural prey due to
habitat destruction, domestic livestock now factors as an ever increasing part
of their diet and is a source of conflict within the GPA.
Gestation Period: 100-119 Days (Averaging 103 Days)
Cub Maturity: 18 months - 2 Years
Cubs Per Litter: (Usually 2-3 cubs) Cubs are born blind and weigh 2-3 pounds.
18-26 month intervals.
Lifespan: 16-18 Years
Predators: Nomadic Males, Man
Social Structure: Smaller social groups than those of the African Lion. Asiatic
Lions live in social groups known as Prides consisting of one or two males,
up to 2-3 females and 3-7 cubs of different ages.
Territory Size: 933km (560 miles max. which is the range of the GPA)
Population (Wild): 300+/- Protected in the GPA, India
Conservation Status: CITES Appendix 1. (All wildcats are listed on CITES Appendix
I or II).
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