The Asian lion is a species of large cat. These lions are predators, quite similar to African lions both in appearance and size. However, they are slightly smaller compared to their African relatives. Other notable differences include: tassels on the end of their tails as well as bunches of hair on their elbows are longer than these of African lions; unlike their African cousins, Asian lions are clearly identified by long folds of skin, stretched along their bellies; their manes are shorter than these of African lions, so the ears are seen. Being cats, Asian lions possess strong retractable claws and sharp canine teeth. The color of their fur varies from buffish-grey with occasional silvery tones, to ruddy-tawny, covered with black spots.
The Asian lion is a sociable and communicative animal. These lions congregate into small social units called prides. The prides can contain only 2 adult females whereas those of African lions may include 4-6 adult females. The largest unit of Asian lionesses, ever recorded, consisted of just 5 females. However, male lions are not as sociable as females, joining the pride mainly for mating and on a large kill. Although hunting takes cooperation, adult males don’t tend to take part in it. In areas with little vegetation lions go hunting at night while in areas with thick vegetation they can hunt during the daytime. These lions are comparably passive for most of the day: they can rest and sleep 20 hours per day.
They are polygynous, meaning that a male can mate with more than one female. There’s no mating season for the Asian lions; they mate at any time of year. The period of gestation lasts from 100 to 119 days with intervals of 18-26 months between births. As a general rule, the female gives birth to 1-6 cubs. Young start eating meat, when they reach 3 months of age. However, they keep on suckling for another 3 months thus being breastfed for up to 6 months. The cubs learn hunting for 9 months, becoming independent at the age of 1 year. Males reach maturity at 5 years old while females – a little earlier – at 3-4 years old.
Due to existing as a single subpopulation, these animals are threatened with potential extinction from any unexpected event – epidemic, forest fire etc. Poaching is another threat to the Asian lions’ population. Fences, electrified by farmers in their fields for protection from grazers, are dangerous for lions in the area. In addition, there are about 20.000 well shafts, dug in the area, surrounding Gir Forest National Park. Incidents of lions, fallen into these wells, have already taken place.
In the IUCN Red List, the Asian lion is listed as Endangered species; however, it’s mentioned as stable. The total number of population is about 350 individuals, including 175 mature animals. About 100 individuals of Asian lions live outside the protected area of Gir Forest.
In their home range, these lions are the top predators. Asian lions regulate prey species population in the area. At the same time, their role as the regulators of prey species population is less important than the role of food availability.