Do you wish to spot the lions roaming free in the jungle? No, you don’t need to go to Africa. You have to visit Gir National Park in Gujarat, India. The Sasan Gir was notified by the Government as the Wildlife Sanctuary in the year 1965 for conserving Asiatic Lion. In Gir, you would realise that humans do not rule this world. Gir is the world of Lions and others like leopards, crocodiles, Hyenas etc. There are also wild birds. It is also interesting to discover that how local Maldhari community people are living in this wild for generations and existing with these animals magnificently. Gir deserves the time of three to four days to explore the real magic of the diverse wildlife of the park with a knowledgeable guide.
Gir is a diverse place both regarding its flora and fauna. You can see hills, ridges, dense forests, valleys, plateaus, grassland etc. There are deciduous forests of teak with trees like amla, khai, timru and evergreen trees like simal, samai, Khakhro, umro, amli etc. The Savannah grassland and scrub is also there. The lions prefer deciduous forest and areas with scrub. The source of water for the whole year is River Hiran. The other rivers are seasonal.
Gir is known as the home of the Asiatic Lions. In the last few centuries due to the human activities, the numbers of tigers, cheetah and lions decline drastically. Outside Gujarat, almost all the lions were killed and hunted. When Nawab of Junagarh invited Lord Curzon for hunting lions, he suggested the Nawab conserve the remaining population of lion. The Nawab took the first step by banning the hunting of lion entirely. Gradually the number of the lion started to increase as a result of successful conservation. We all know that lions are critically endangered species. Out of the total 1400 square km today the National Park covered only 258 square km. In Gir, there is a small healthy population of the lion, but they need more space comparing their increased numbers with the small area of the park.
The lions which have local name sher or sinh are two and a half metre long, and weight is 115 to 200kg. They run at the speed of 65 km per hour. The Sambar, nilgai, chinkara, chital are their favourite prey. If they are not hungry, they do not attack animals. As lions are the bold and mighty animal, do not approach them even if they seem timid.
Apart from lions, there are leopards, around 300 in numbers. There are also jungle cats, desert cats and rusty spotted cats. You can spot plenty of deer and antelopes like chital, sambar, chausingha, chinkara, and blackbuck. The other animals found in Gir are striped hyenas, wild boars, pale hedgehogs, pangolins, Indian hares, grey musk shrews, ratel or honey badger, ruddy mongoose. There are snakes like the viper, krait Indian rock python. The marsh crocodiles, star tortoise, soft-shelled turtle monitor lizards among reptiles. Gir is also home to more than 300 species of birds like flamingos, Malabar whistling thrush, Paradise flycatcher, crested serpent eagle, king vulture, pelicans, painted storks etc.
You should come to Gir if you want to experience the wilderness with the majestic lions and other animals around in their own home. There is Gir Interpretation Zone, at a distance of 12 km west Sasan at Devalia. Here you can see some lions in captivity. This park is 60 km from Junagarh and 360 km from Ahmedabad. The nearest rail station is Junagarh. The bus or taxi services are available to reach Sasan Gir by road. The permit is required to enter the park. Visit the website of forest department for information and timings.
These days the natural environment has been restricted to limited boundaries for expansion of human civilisation, economic development and the industrial revolution. That is why the park has become too small for the lions. The activities of humans, farming, grazing of cattle, too many temples in the park, and the demand for accommodation and infrastructure for the visitors are conflicting with the conservation goal of the park.
There is a forest guest house maintained by the park authority opposite to the railway station. Food is also available.