Yes! Lions do exist in India and in fact, it is only India that largely houses an Asian counterpart to the regal golden African Lion at this point in time. These beautiful golden beasts roam the drylands of Gujarat in their natural accord offering the most exotic wildlife spectacle to anyone wanting some adventure.
India is the greatest abode to the Asian Lions – though they are endangered, their population is pretty stable. So if you’re a traveller with the hots for some Lion-gazing or you’re just a big Lion king fanboy, whatever the case you’re in for a sweet treat!
Panthera Leo Persica: The Only Indian Lion
The only Lion to ever subsist in India, the Asian Lion also known famously as the ‘Asiatic Lion’ is a carnivore that is crowned as one of the ‘Five Big Cats’ in India with its magnificent sandy-silver body and an agile chasing top speed of 56 km/h.
While it is smaller and messier than the African Lion, it is by no means inferior as it weighs a solid 110 -190 kg (the weight of a sportbike!) and its height at the shoulder is about 3.5 ft. Its most striking feature is the longitudinal fold of skin that runs towards its belly – something absolutely absent in the African Lion. It is only males that possess a mane (though it is short) that extends from their head to shoulders. Because their manes are short, their ears are visible. Females, due to their smaller frame and no-mane structure are splendid hunters. Though the colour is generally sandy-silver there could also be reddish, brownish or yellowish variations among the Asiatic lion.
The female Lions are the most crucial hunters of the group while male Lions are relatively unsociable and often only join in for massive kills or for mating purposes. Though hunting is a group activity, males do not indulge in this either. Males do however engage in marking territories with urine, roar haphazardly and chase to ward off any animals that may trespass their turf.
Asiatic Lions live in prides – family units with 2-5 females (and their cubs) where male Lions are often absent and feed on anything ranging from boars, buffaloes to antelopes and deer.
Overall they’re idle, inactive creatures who sleep for over 20 hours a day (That’s more than ¾ of a day!).
Lions in India, Where do you Find them?
The only place that you can find Lions in India is at the ‘Gir National Park’ of Gujarat which is located 65 km away from Junagarh Gujarat – established for the sole purpose of protecting Asiatic Lions along with leopards and antelopes. Aside from Africa, ‘Gir Forest National Park’ is the only place on earth to showcase Lions prowling about freely in the open.
As famous as it is for Lions – it is also a home and habitat for nearly 2,375 unique species including both leopards and lions. You might also come across two different species of deer including the ‘Sambar’ – the largest Indian deer, jackals, striped hyenas and Indian fox at the Gir National Park – an all-rounder park that also gives an incredible experience of enthralling flora.
One of its best sightings also includes the Chowsingha: The world’s only four-honed antelope and a collection of over 40 other species of reptiles and amphibians. A few more animals that might catch your eye include marsh crocodiles, nilgai, wild boars, chital, blackbucks and civet cats; All within a natural habitat backdrop for the most organic viewing experience. The Park also nurtures luscious rivers, rich vegetation and captivating species turning it into an invaluable lifeline of flora and fauna.
Apart from these reasons, what makes Gir national Park a travel-worthy place is just simply the fact that it is close to a number of other major tourist attractions such as Kamleshwar Dam, Tulsi Shyam Temple, Tribal Settlements, Uparkot Fort, Somnath Temple, Devalia Safari Park and Zamzeer Waterfall.
Beyond anything, if what you want is a Jeep safari with some real-life Lion action, go pack your bags because Gir National Park is your dream destination!
How Many Lions are there in India?
The Lion population in India increased from a solid 523 in 2015 to a staggering 674 in 2020. Therefore, as of 2022 the count of Lions in India should definitely be more than 674.
What’s actually shocking about this count is that when it was initiated, there were only 10 Asiatic Lions in India! (Yes,10). This was largely because Lions were used as prey for hunting competitions where they were almost killed until the point of extinction. Right about now though, these majestic creatures are cherished and valued in India.
Indian Lion Safari : Tips for an Ideal Trip
As we’ve already discussed above, if you’re in for some classic animal exploration and craving a glimpse of the Indian Lion, your landing is nowhere else than the Sasan Gir or Gir National Park.
Some things that you might want to bear in mind before setting foot on this wildlife paradise are:
Advance jeep booking: preferably online. Avoiding agents for booking can save you a lot of time and money (Yes, a lot) and ensure your travelling experience among a ton of other people who’re in a rush to get on the ride. Especially during seasonal traffic.
Possession of original ID proof: This is a mandatory requirement that is necessary to gain entry into the Park. It has to be noted that entry permits are strict in their conditions, so without the relevant ID proofs, your chances into the Park are doomed.
Attiring comfortable clothes: It should not be forgotten that Gir National Park is a place of dry and parched conditions and therefore is best experienced with some kind of comfortable, casual clothes. Non-reflective textures of clothes are ultra-recommended.
Three time slots have been allocated to view the park as 6-9 am, 9-12 pm and 3-6 pm. Among these, the most recommended time slot is the 6 am slot for the best viewing experience.
Once the slot has been chosen it has to be noted that while one jeep houses 6 members, there are 7 different routes and only 2 jeeps are allowed per route. Therefore, advance arrival can ensure that not a single second of your thrilling ride is wasted.
The best season to visit the place aligns in the summer season – the extra dryness adds to the visibility of the habitat and you’d be able to see clearer during the March-May months. It is also best known that Lion Safari is impossible during 4 rainy months from June 15th to October 15th as the place is closed.
If in case, you got unlucky enough to not see a Lion at Gir National Park, booking yourself a tour to the Devalia forest (controlled environment inside Gir National Park) can save a lot of disappointments as you’re definitely bound to see Lions there.