" Trees are Earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven." ~ Rabindranath Tagore

The Last of the Asiatic Lions

Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary and Cub magazines on the Gir National Park, home to the last of the Asiatic Lions.

We are all aware that the Gir National Park is home to the last of the Asiatic Lions. Together with crested serpent eagles, white-eyed buzzard, hawk eagles and sparrow hawks, Gir is a bird-watcher's delight. Herds of chital lend an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity to the forest as they graze the rich golden grasses of their jungle home. However, as is the case with most of our sanctuaries and national parks, Gir is in deep trouble.

Exact figures are difficult to quote, but today there are about 300 lions left alive in Gir. These animals are sometimes poisoned by locals. Their claws are much sought after by poachers who sell them for fancy prices. Because of bad land management outside Gir there is virtually no fodder available for livestock, so outsiders send their cows and buffaloes into the forest. This leaves the jungle so disturbed that natural prey like sambar and chital are difficult for the lions to hunt. The problems are really quite severe and no one seems able to do very much to ease them.

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It is a well known fact that the lions are fighting for survival with their backs to the wall. But if you look at what is taking place in the Gir National Park and Lion Sanctuary in Gujarat, the seriousness of the problems becomes even more acute. Yet, the state government virtually encourages encroachments and illegal mining in an effort to win cheap popularity for two-bit politicians. There is also a new proposal to legalise limestone mining within five km. of the sanctuary, a plan that will almost certainly destabilise Gir. Excessive tourism including a five star facility in the very heart of the forest further disturbs the ecology of the forest. And a major temple complex is attempting to grab a large parcel of land in the heart of the forest. For several years now we have been asking that the railway link running through the heart of Gir be shifted to an alignment outside the forest. The proposal to shift the line, however, keeps getting shifted from ministry to ministry. Meanwhile lions and other wildlife, continue to die on the tracks. Pressure on these fragile forests has caused lions to wander miles outside, often with tragic consequences. The forests surrounding nearby Girnar, for instance, now support around 15 lions, but they are fast losing their tree cover. Rather than protect the forests, the tourism department has proposed a new ropeway project to take people to a temple on the top of the Girnar hill.


Our wildlife, sadly, is in the hands of bureaucrats and forest officers whose indoctrination by the World Bank is so complete that every Park and Sanctuary management plan now incorporates the Washington world-view. The victims of this frightful farce are the lion, the tiger, the elephant and the many forest communities that evolved in consonance with the wilderness.

The prime reason for Gir's existence is to save the Asiatic lion. Every other priority - tourism, highways, mining, fodder, fuel wood etc., must be subservient to the survival of the species.


Phalguni Neogy

I read the recent article on GIR (THE LAST OF ASIATIC LIONS by Bittu Sahgal). Being a Wild Life enthusiast I do support preservation of endangered species. But why only endangered ones, in fact, all species.

The article on GIR is really shocking and it shows the pathetic state of affairs exsiting in our country. It's a mockery on wild life activity and points fingers to all involved(especially the politicians). The bureaucrats look only for their own benefit and interest.

It's amazing and a real pity that the majority do not understand the meaning of 'ecological balance'. This will lead to disaster and our beautiful country might become a second 'Sahara'. But it's not too late. We have to fight and overcome all obstacles for saving all endangered species like the Asiatic Lion. Conveying this message to others and drawing mass support is very important.


Syed Shaheer Jamal

This mail is in reference to the article 'THE LAST OF THE ASIATIC LIONS' by Bittu Sahgal.

I was deeply shocked and hurt to read about the state of the Gir National Park.I was always in the mistaken notion that our wild life is being preserved perfectly and incidents related to poaching are well taken care of. But I guess I was wrong.

We say that India is on the path to success with the Nuclear test,s and multinational tie-ups with other countries.We blindly follow the cultures and customs of the west neglecting our Indian heritage, barely thinking about the consequences. We say, now India is not a backward country .But is it true? To be modern & advanced really marks progress, but it also means not to forget the resource that has made us independent- mother Nature.

It hurts me to think that now we have to learn the ways ot preservation from others. Countries like USA & France have progressed not only by utilisation of such resources but also have taken measures to preserve them. Why? Because they know that man has been surviving just because of these entities. Conservation & preservation is not just the job of a handful of people - it is a job of all of us. Such things require not only awareness & highlighting such issues but making people realise what serious affects can happen. And definitely this requires a collective effort.


What we lack is initiative and that too with ferociousness. There are a number of organisations who are working desperately and ruthlessly so that such disasters can be avoided. We just cannot rely on them and avoid our duties. But I think the only way is to bring such issues up to the govt. and make people know about these incidents, so that extensive measures can be taken by the govt. to avoid such situations and involving the people on a mass scale to object to such practices. The new generation thinks a lot differently from the older one. New ideas , new concepts & new methodologies can be used to fight against such disorder & chaos. This means the younger people should be given a chance to come up .

I would also be forwarding this article to as many people I can, so as to make them aware of what is happenning in Gir National Park. Its high time we started caring about the environment or else the after effects could take their toll and we will then be left helpless.



As an environment conscious citizen, I was deeply hurt to know about the sad state of GIR FOREST. Let me thank you for enlightening us on this issue. Other than the beuracratic and political empathy, what endangers our ecosystem is public indifference. People are content to watch discovery channel, without contributing anything concrete. Of-course there are others who are really interested in setting things right, but lack direction and support. Please let me know how I can contribute to further the cause of protecting the environment and our ecosystem.

M. M. Baig

I would like to thanks Mr.Bittu Sahgal,for his article "THE LAST OF THE ASIATIC LIONS". It was a nice step to make people aware of the environment and the endangered species. We all are concerned about the issue, but don't know the steps we can take in this regard. I'll be glad if I can do any thing to further this noble cause.


Rajesh Srinivasan and Hemalatha Rajesh

The ASIATIC LIONS ARTICLE on IndiaWorld is simply superb, expressing the feeling of Lions living there. I'm living in Detroit Michigan, USA and would like to deliver few comments in order to give a hand to you (we are two giving hands to you - including my wife Hema).

I had studied in school about Gir and was aware of the Majestic Lions living there. Subsequently I never got a chance to visit. A strong lover of nature, I wish the Government would take strong action against the acquisition. Sadly the worst parts of US culture alone is exposed to the people of India, not what this country is doing to protect Nature.

Few days ago it was mentioned in USA Today that the people are suing the Government for using Preserved Land. Preserved land basically earmarks tracts of land for future citizens and no one is allowed to use that land for any reason whatesoever. People are very conscious about that. There are many santuaries that are nationalised in this country where habitation is not allowed. (Mackinac Island on the northern part of Michigan is a great example. Though human beings live here no vehicles are allowed here.) Likewise there are plenty of Wildlife sanctuaries which are nationalised and open to public. People are highly conscious about preserving nature and their contribution to this end is over whelming.


There are so many constraints and factors that we need to consider and we cannot compare the two countries. USA is huge landwise and sparsely populated compared to India. They can afford to leave patch of lands for future use but in India we don't have much space to live.

I'm not concluding with a suggestion and am expressing my sadness at this. If there is anything we can do from here you have two people to participate in a mission.

Please take care of Nature. Lions are our National Symbol.

God save them.

Bittu Sahgal replies:

Thanks so very much for your supportive messages. The Gir Forests are a heritage for the future, not an inheritance to be squandered by shortsighted profit seekers.

You can make a difference. Write to the Chief Minister of Gujarat and to the Minister, Environment and Forests at the Centre. Tell them that you want Gir and other such wilderness areas protected for posterity. Also, get in touch with organisations and individuals in your town who you know to be working to save nature. Add your voice and your strength to theirs.


Bittu Sahgal,
Editor, Sanctuary Magazine,
602, Maker Chambers V,
Nariman Point,
Mumbai 400 021
Fax: 022-2874380


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