Asiatic lion, Persian lion, Indian lion
The Asian lion is a population of Panthera leo leo that today survives in the wild only in India. The first scientific description of the Asian lion was published in 1826 by the Austrian zoologist Johann N. Meyer, who named it Felis leo persicus. Until the 19th century, it occurred in Saudi Arabia, eastern Turkey, Iran, Mesopotamia, Pakistan, and from east of the Indus River to Bengal and the Narmada River in Central India. The lion is one of five pantherine cats native to India, along with the Bengal tiger (P. tigris tigris ), Indian leopard (P. pardus fusca ), Snow leopard (P. uncia ) and Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa ).
Asian lions are quite similar to African lions both in appearance and size. However, they are slightly smaller compared to their African relatives. Other notable differences include the tassels on the end of their tails, as well as bunches of hair on their elbows, which 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 Gir Forest in Gujarat (India) is the major area of Asian lions’ distribution. In fact, the Wildlife Sanctuary (Western Gujarat) and the dry deciduous forest of Gir National Park is currently the only habitat for these animals.
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. Asian lions are comparably passive for most of the day: they can rest and sleep 20 hours per day. Lions have a large repertoire of vocalizations. Most of them are variations of growling, snarling, meowing, and roaring. Other sounds produced include purring, puffing, bleating, and humming. Roaring is used for advertising their presence. Lions most often roar at night and can be heard from many miles away.
Asian lions 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 lion 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.
According to IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Asian lion is about 350 individuals of which about 175 are mature individuals. At least 100 individuals are outside the Gir Forest protected area. Currently, the Asian lion is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today remain stable.
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.