Panthera leo persica
ИНДИЙСКИЙ или АЗИАТСКИЙ ЛЕВ
The range of the lion subspecies of Asia formerly stretched across the coastal forests of northern Africa and from northern Greece across southwest Asia to eastern India.
The lion remained widespread in Asia until the mid-19th century, when the advent of firearms led to its decline. By 1940 the Asiatic lion had disappeared everywhere, except for the Gir Forest in West India.
To protect the lion, the Gir National Park (259 km2) and Wildlife Sanctuary (1,153 km2) was established in 1965. The area is vegetated with a mixed deciduous teak forest and acacia thorn savannah. The annual rainfall is 650 to 1,000 mm. Outside the sanctuary there is cultivation, dense human population and grazing livestock. A considerable amount of people moves through the protected area. Four large temples are located in the forest, and several major roads and a railroad cut through it. With the current population of about 300 Asiatic lions, the maximum carrying capacity of the Gir Forest has been reached, conflicts with livestock raisers increase and attacks on people happen.
The single population of the Asiatic lion in the Gir Forest is vulnerable to unpredictable events, such as an epidemic or a large forest fire. To save the species, establishment of at least one other wild population is advisable. Preparations are under way.
In 2005, the captive population of Asiatic lions was 79 in Europe and 89 in India.
Compared to the African lion, the Asiatic lion has:
- a slightly smaller size
- a longitudinal fold of skin on the belly
- a scantier mane at the top of the head, so that the ears are visible
- a longer tail tassel
- some differences in skull structure
Geneticists have found only minor differences between Asiatic and African lions, less than between human races.
Prides of Asiatic lions contain 2–3 females with cubs, males generally associate with their pride only when mating or on a large kill. The prides of Asiatic lions are smaller than those of African lions. A lesser degree of sociality in Asiatic lions may be a function of the smaller prey available to them.