Gir – The abode of the Majestic Asiatic Lions

My recollection of my last visit to Gir remains fresh in my memory forever. It was the first time that I actually spotted a robust male lion napping in the wild, dry, arid foliage of the might Gir Forest in India. Not a sound emanated from the other dwellers other than silent vigil of us, thrill seekers, feasting our eyes on the Asiatic lion. He was the epitome of a true King – large, gregarious, mighty and all powerful. I was lucky to spot one, my safari driver commented as sightings are based on pure luck.

The Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is located around 65 kilometres southeast of Junagadh district in Gujarat. Spread over a total area of 1,412 square kilometres, the National Park core area is 258 kilometres. The Sasan-Gir sanctuary is the only natural habitat in the world, outside Africa, of the Asiatic lion; the only place where you can see them roaming free in the wild. According to the 2015 census, currently, there are around 523 lions spread over the four districts that the forest spans. Among these, are 106 male, 201 female and 213 subadults, the naturalist added. This is good news, considering that indiscriminate hunting had led to the dwindling of their population. Fortunately, due to the efforts of the Government and conservationists, the lion population has risen gradually. Even the Maldhari tribe, which lives in this region, is being compensated monetarily by the Government for the loss of their cattle by the lions.

Besides the mighty lions, one can spot a myriad of birds, other animals and trees in the Forest. Sambar and spotted deer (chital), blue bull (nilgai), chousingha (the world’s only four-horned antelope), leopards, chinkara (Indian gazelle) and wild boar thrive in Gir. Jackal, striped hyena, jungle cat, rusty-spotted cat, langur, porcupine and black-naped Indian hare are among the other mammals of Gir. It has a large population of marsh crocodile or mugger, which is among the 40 species of reptiles and amphibians recorded in the sanctuary. The Gir Forest is known as the pride of Gujarat for various reasons, the variety of species in birds are endless, keeping you on the toes to explore and witness much more of this forest than you would come across while reading about the forest.

The Park checklist has 250 birds listed. About 50 other species (including the endangered lesser florican and the saras crane) are recorded in the grasslands along the periphery of the sanctuary. Many species like the painted sandgrouse, grey francolin, quails, Asian paradise flycatcher, black-naped monarch, white-browed fantail, Asian brown flycatcher, white-eye, coppersmith barbet, and yellow-footed green pigeon etc have been spotted by tourists.

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The Sasan-Gir sanctuary is the only natural habitat in the world, outside Africa, of the Asiatic lion; the only place where you can see them roaming free in the wild. According to the 2015 census, currently, there are around 523 lions spread over the four districts that the forest spans. Among these, are 106 male, 201 female and 213 sub-adults.

Known for its enormous deciduous foliage interspersed with semi-evergreen and evergreen trees, scrub jungle, large patches of grasslands and rocky hills, this forest is a lot more for what your eyes can withhold. It is the largest dry deciduous forest in Western India. The trees you can see in the deciduous forest are Teak, flame of the forest, Acacia, Banyan, Zizyphas, Jamun, Tendu and Dhak. The forest remains dry for most part of the year with scrub trees like babul and a few flowering trees.

On every wildlife enthusiast’s list, Gir holds a unique spot. The national park is a major attraction amongst people of all age groups and the youth would prefer to go for safaris available in three slots: 6 AM to 9 AM, 9 AM to 12 PM and 3 PM to 6 PM. It is possible to do online bookings of safaris now. Also, it is advisable to book in advance as the authorities at Gir forest do not allow spot booking anymore. Hiring a jeep is optional and is not a part of the entry fee. Usually, all hotels have contacts with Jeep providers which is an easier option in case you prefer to hire one. It costs around 1,000 as entry fee to Gir for upto 6 people and additional 2,200 for the vehicle. There are eight trails in Gir defined as Zone 1 to Zone 8. The shortest trail is 22kms (Zone 8) while the longest trail is 45 kms (Zone 1 & Zone 3). A specific zone can be selected at the time of buying the tickets. Unless mentioned specifically, they will allocate randomly at the time of entry. There is a separate campus called Devalila Safari Park or Gir Interpretation Centre apart from the national park.

This resembles a zoo type setting with all Gir animals. This may not satisfy the enthusiasts’ adrenaline for safari; however, it does give everyone an opportunity to see the animals.

Entry to Gir is closed during monsoon months (mid of June to mid of October) like most of other national parks in India. Summers are the best for spotting lions as they often come out to drink water from artificial pools near safari trails while winters are pleasant to enjoy the forest.

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