Conservation of Asiatic lion

Conservation of Asiatic lion

Project Animal(s) : Asiatic lion
Project Category : Mammals
Project Region : Asia
Project Type : Conservation
Project URL :
Project is timebound? : No

The Asiatic lion is included in Appendix I of CITES and fully protected in India. It is categorized as endangered under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) of India. The population of Asiatic lion has been steadily increasing in response to successful management and conservation initiatives spanning over the last five decades. Management interventions, such as reduction in livestock grazing and control of fire, have led to vegetation recovery and increase in wild ungulate populations. The Asiatic lion population is now expanding and moving throughout the Greater Gir Landscape. This landscape, where the last population of the Asiatic lion remains, is of outstanding importance for the long-term conservation of this species.

The Asiatic lion lives in a landscape where people have a high tolerance and consider lions as part of their natural heritage. However, to maintain this positive attitude of local communities in the long-term, it is needed to improve husbandry practices and economic incentives as well as human safety in the Greater Gir Landscape. Of concern is the human-lion conflict mainly outside the protected area, where human and livestock density is higher. The coexistence of humans and lions, thus conflict mitigation and the promotion of positive public perceptions of lions, is essential to can continue with successful Asiatic lion conservation. It may also be necessary to create corridors to enable free movement of excess lions between reserves or isolated forest patches.

Theoretically, the captive population of Asiatic lions can be considered as a second population. A Species Survival Plan (SSP) was established by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) in 1981 to manage the over 200 Asiatic lions held by western zoos. A studbook has been introduced to record the genetic and demographic data of the species. However, only two of the animals of the SSP-managed population were pure Asiatic lions and the programme was stopped. In 1990 a new programme was started, the European Breeding Programme (EBP) with two male and two female Asiatic lions of known pure genetics coming from India. In India, a captive breeding program with the idea to crossbreed Asiatic and African lions was already started in the late 1980s at the Chhatbir Zoo. The program was stopped in 2002 after many of the lions died due to a disease. It was decided to launch a new captive breeding project, but this time with genetically pure Asiatic lions from other zoos in India. A breeding centre has been established at Sakkarbaug Zoo at Junagadh where around 180 Asiatic lions have been bred in captivity so far.

In order to maximize the genetic diversity and reduce the risk of extinction through an epidemic outbreak, it is advised to establish at least one more wild population of Asiatic lions. A first attempt to establish a subpopulation was made in 1957 when Asiatic lions were translocated to the Chandraprabha Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Uttar Pradesh. The attempt failed due to various reasons. First the lion population in the Wildlife Sanctuary increased from three to eleven individuals but afterwards all lions disappeared most probably due to poaching by shooting or poisoning. Currently, the Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Madhy Pradesh is identified as the best area for establishing an Asiatic lion population since human disturbance is considered to be relatively low with 13,000 people and around 16,000 livestock living in the proposed area.  With assistance from the Indian Government a twenty year project was initiated in 1995 to establish a disturbance-free habitat for the lion reintroduction. In order to have adequate space for a free-ranging population of lions, the challenging task of re-locating resident communities has been successfully achieved as it is risky to move lions into an area where generations of people have no experience with large felids. The final implementation of the project is awaited.

Project Agency : Cat Specialist Group

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