Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat is the only place where one would find the Asiatic Lions. On the IUCN Red List, the Asiatic Lion is listed under its former scientific name, Panthera Leo Persica as endangered because of its small size and area of occupancy. The Asiatic Lion is one of the five pantherine cats inhabiting in India, along with the Bengal Tiger, Indian leopard, snow leopard and clouded leopard. They are also popularly known as ‘Indian Lion’.
The Asiatic lion was first described in 1826 by the Austrian zoologist Johann N. Meyer who named it Felis Leo Persicus. Until the 19th century, it was found in eastern Turkey, Iran, Mesopotamia, and from east of the Indus River to Bengal and Narmada River in Central India. Since the turn of 20th century, it is restricted to the Gir Forest National Park. The lion population has steadily increased since 2010. In May 2015, the 14th Asiatic Lion Census was conducted over an area of about 20,000 kms. The lion population was estimated at 523 individuals, comprising 109 adult males, 201 adult females and 213 cubs. In August 2017, a similar census revealed 650 wild individuals.
Asiatic lions are slightly smaller than African lions. Adult males weigh 160 to 190 kg, while females weigh 110 to 120 kg. The most striking morphological character, which is always seen in Asiatic Lions, and rarely in African lions, is a longitudinal fold of the skin running along its belly. The fur ranges in colour from slightly red, heavily speckled with black to sandy or grey to even silver in certain lights. Males have moderate mane growth at the top of the head, so their ears are always visible.
The Asiatic lions have been facing the usual threats of poaching and habitat fragmentation. There are also cases of lions dying by falling into the unguarded wells around the Gir Protected Area. The WWF, India, has supported barricading of 180 wells with local partners and Gujarat Forest Department.