Asiatic Lion

Asiatic Lion

Taxobox
name = Asiatic Lion
status = CR
status_system=iucn3.1
status_ref = [IUCN2007|assessors=Cat Specialist Group|year=2000|id=15952|title=Panthera leo persica|downloaded=12 August 2008 Database entry includes justification for why this species is of Critically endangerd]
trend = down



image_width = 250px
image_caption = Male



image2_width=250px
image2_caption=Female (Lioness)
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Mammalia
ordo = Carnivora
familia = Felidae
genus = "Panthera"
species = "P. leo"
subspecies = "P. l. persica"
trinomial = "Panthera leo persica"
trinomial_authority = Meyer, 1826
synonyms = "Leo leo goojratensis" (India) "Leo leo persicus" (Persia)
range_


range_map_caption = Current distribution of the Asiatic Lion in the wild
The Asiatic Lion ("Panthera leo persica") is a subspecies of the lion which survives today only in India where it is also known as the Indian lion. They once ranged from the Mediterranean to India, covering most of Southwest Asia, and hence it is also known as the Persian lion.

The current wild population consists of about 350 individuals restricted to the Gir Forest in the state of Gujarat, India.

The historic distribution included the Caucasus to Yemen and from Macedonia in Greece to present-day India through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan through to the borders of Bangladesh.

Biology and behaviour

Compared to their African cousins, Asiatic lions have shaggier coats, with a longer tassel on the end of the tail and longer tufts of hair on the elbows. Both sexes have a distinctive fold of skin that runs along the belly. Males are 1.7-2.2 m long and weigh 150-225 kg, while females are 1.4-1.7 m in length and weigh in at 100-150 kg. The largest known wild male was exactly 3 m (9.9 ft) in length. [Wood, The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. Sterling Pub Co Inc (1983), ISBN 978-0851122359]

Asian lions are highly social animals, living in units called prides. Asiatic lion prides are smaller than those of African lions, with an average of only two females, whereas an African pride has an average of four to six. The Asian males are less social and only associate with the pride when mating or on a large kill. It has been suggested that this may be because their prey animals are smaller than those in Africa, requiring fewer hunters to tackle them. [ [http://www.bristolzoo.org.uk/learning/animals/mammals/asiatic-lion Asiatic lion ] ] Asiatic lions prey predominantly on sambar, chital, nilgai, chinkara, wild boar and livestock.

tatus

The Gir Forest National Park of western India has about 359 lions (as of April 2006) which live in a 1,412 km² (558 square miles) sanctuary covered with scrub and open deciduous forest habitats. The population in 1907 is believed to consist of only 13 lions when the Nawab of Junagadh gave them complete protection. This figure however is highly controversial because the first census of lions in the Gir that was conducted in 1936 yielded a result of 234 animals.

The Bengal Tiger along with Indian leopard till about 150 to 200 years ago shared most of the habitat where Asiatic Lion was found in large parts of west and central India along with the Asiatic Cheetah now locally extinct in India. Asiatic Cheetahs however preferred open grasslands more and Asiatic Lions preferring open forests interspersed with grasslands also home to tigers and leopards, these Indian big cats lost most of their open jungle and grassland habitat in India to rising human population which almost completely converted their entire habitat in the plains of India into farmland. The Bengal tigers, Asiatic Cheetahs and Indian leopards who lived along with Asiatic Lions in the open forests in the plains of India together vanished with their habitat also frequently becoming targets of royal and British colonial hunters along with lions. However tigers and leopards continued to exist in India in much better numbers due to the fact that they are adapted to also living in thicker forests and in forested hill tracts which were either "protected" or "inaccessible" where they continued to survive in much healthier numbers. The Bengal Tiger is now locally extinct in the Indian state of Gujarat where along with habitat loss it was hunted into extinction during British colonial times and the times of the Princely estates and their royalty who loved hunting them. The Tiger is no longer found in the entire Indian state of Gujarat where the worlds last few critically endangered Asiatic Lion survive in the Gir forest along with an alarmingly rising population of Indian leopards competing for scarce forest habitat and resources. Indian leopards are in no immediate threat of extinction and their IUCN status stands at "Least Concern" but they are overcrowding the limited resources available to the worlds last "Critically Endangered" Asiatic lions living in Gir forest. As for Bengal Tigers they may however be reintroduced again in the Indian state of Gujarat in the near future if any of the tiny pockets of remaining remnant forests is found suitable and the people living around are willing to accommodate them.

Inbreeding concerns

The wild population, said to be about 350 Asiatic Lions is thought to be derived from just 13 individuals and thus was widely thought to be highly inbred. Many studies have reported that the inbred populations could be susceptible to diseases due to weakening immune system, and their sperm were deformed leading to infertility. In earlier studies Stephen O'Brien, a geneticist, had suggested that "If you do a DNA fingerprint, Asiatic lions actually would look like identical twins... because they descend from as few as a dozen individuals that was all left at the turn of the 20th century." [ [http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0106/feature3/ National Geographic feature] ] This makes them especially vulnerable to diseases, and causes 70% to 80% of sperm to be deformed — a ratio that can lead to infertility when lions are further inbred in captivity.

A subsequent study suggested that the low genetic variability may have been a feature of the original population and not a result of inbreeding in recent times. They also show that the variability in immunotypes is close to that of the tiger population and that there are no spermatazoal abnormalities in the current population of Asiatic Lions. [Shivaji,S. , D. Jayaprakash and Suresh B. Patil (1998) Assessment of inbreeding depression in big cats: Testosterone levels and semen analysis. Current science. 75(9):23-30 [http://www.iisc.ernet.in/~currsci/nov10/articles19.htm] ] [ [http://www.cza.nic.in/research1.html Central Zoo Authority of India (CZA), Government of India] ] The results of the study have been questioned due the use of RAPD techniques which are unsuitable for population genetics research.authors? (1997) " [http://www.sciencemag.org/content/vol278/issue5339/r-samples.dtl#278/5339/807b Indians Look At Their Big Cats' Genes] ", Science, 278: 807 DOI: 10.1126/science.278.5339.807b]

The population figure of 13 Asiatic lions at the turn of 1900s is inaccurate according to some reports and is said to have been publicized to discourage hunting. Census data from that time indicates that the population was closer to 100. [ [http://www.asiatic-lion.org/intro.html The Asiatic Lion Information Centre] Accessed January 2007] Hunting of lions was a popular sport with the British Colonialists and Indian Royalty, and all other lions in India had been exterminated by then.

Threats to the subspecies

Lions are poisoned for attacking livestock. Some of the other major threats include floods, fires and epidemics. Their restricted range makes them especially vulnerable.

Nearly 15,000 to 20,000 open wells dug by farmers in the area for irrigation have also acted as traps with many lions drowning. Suggestions for walls around the wells as well as the use of "Drilled Tube wells" have been made.

Farmers on the periphery of the Gir Forest frequently use crude and illegal electrical fences by powering them with high voltage overhead power lines. These are usually intended to protect their crops from Nilgai but lions and other wildlife are also killed.

The biggest threat faced by the Gir Forest is the presence of Maldharis.Fact|date=April 2007 These communities are vegetarian and do not indulge in poaching because they are basically pasturalists, with an average of 50 cattle (mainly "Gir Cow") per family. The areas around Maldhari settlements, "nesses", are overgrazed. This habitat destruction by the cattle and the firewood requirements of the populace reduces the natural prey base and endangers the lions. The lions are in turn forced by the lack of natural prey to shift to killing cattle and are in turn targeted by the people. Many Maldharis had been relocated outside the park by the forestry to make the lions to have a more natural surrounding and have more natural prey.

Genetic pollution in captive Asiatic lions

Native captive Asiatic Lions in Indian zoos till recently were genetically polluted with genes of African Lions confiscated from circuses. This latter group was randomly hybridized with Asiatic lions, leading to widespread genetic pollution in the captive Asiatic lion population. Once discovered, this led to the complete shut down of the European (EEP) and the American endangered species registered breeding programs (SSP) for Asiatic Lions as the founder animals originally imported from India were ascertained to be genetically polluted with the genes of African lions. Since then India has corrected its mistake and now breeds only pure native Asiatic Lions, and has helped revive the European endangered species registered breeding program (EEP) for Asiatic Lions. However, the American SSP which completely shut down in early 1980s has yet to receive pure bred Asiatic Lions from India to form a new founder population for breeding in zoos on the American continent. [Pattabhiraman Shankaranarayanan* and Lalji Singh* year? [http://www.iisc.ernet.in/~currsci/nov10/articles18.htm Mitochondrial DNA sequence divergence among big cats and their hybrids] journal? ] [G.S. Mudur (2004) [http://www.telegraphindia.com/1041226/asp/opinion/story_4175563.asp BEASTLY TALES] ] The Telegraph, Calcutta, India. Published December 26:African-Asian lion problems were first spotted in the US. It’s the price you pay for playing God. After toying with lion-breeding programmes for years, zoo officials in India are staring at a man-made evolutionary disaster.] [S.J. O’Brien et al. (1987) [http://www.asiatic-lion.org/captive.html "Evidence for African Origins of the Founders of the Asiatic Lion SSP"] Zoo Biology. :The report’s authors used genetic tests to compare the wild population in Gir with those in captivity. They conclude that the captive population was not pure Asiatic. As a result of the O’Brien report the SSP was discontinued. Asiatic Lion Information Centre Accessed on September 19, 2007]

Reintroduction

Work has been going on over the past decade to establish the world's second completely removed population of the wild free ranging Asiatic Lions. Wildlife Institute of India researchers confirmed that the Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary is the most promising location to re-establish a free ranging population of the Asiatic lions and certified it ready to receive its first batch of translocated lions [ [http://journals.cambridge.org/production/action/cjoGetFulltext?fulltextid=851224 Preparations for the reintroduction of Asiatic lion Panthera leo persica into Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh, India] by A.J.T. Johnsingh, S.P. Goyal, Qamar Qureshi; Cambridge Journals Online; Oryx (2007), 41: 93-96 Cambridge University Press; Copyright © 2007 Fauna & Flora International; doi:10.1017/S0030605307001512; Published online by Cambridge University Press 05Mar2007] from Gir Wildlife Sanctuary where they are highly overpopulated. Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary was selected as the reintroduction site for critically endangered Asiatic lion because it is in the former range of the lions before it was hunted into extinction in about 1873. [Ravi Chellam and A.J.T. Johnsingh (1999), [http://www.iucn.org/themes/ssc/sgs/rsg/rsgcdrom/PDFs/RNews18.pdf Translocating Asiatic Lions, India] RE-INTRODUCTION NEWS No. 18, Page 11] .

Asiatic Lions in Europe and Southwest Asia

Lions were once found in Europe. Aristotle and Herodotus wrote that lions were found in the Balkans. When King Xerxes of Persia advanced through Macedon in 480 BC, several of his baggage camels were killed by lions. Lions are believed to have died out within the borders of present-day Greece around AD 80-100. The Nemean Lion from Greek Mythology is widely associated with depictions of Heraklis/Hercules in Greek Mythological art.

The European population is sometimes considered part of the Asiatic lion ("Panthera leo persica") group, but others consider it a separate subspecies, the European lion ("Panthera leo europaea") or a last remnant of the Cave lion ("Panthera leo spelaea").

Lions were found in the Caucasus until the 10th century. This was the northernmost population of lions and the only place in the former Soviet Union's territory that lions lived in historic times. These lions became extinct in Armenia around the year 100 and in Azerbaijan and southwest Russia during the 10th century. The region was also inhabited by the Caspian Tiger and the Persian leopard apart from Asiatic Cheetahs ("Acinonyx jubatus venaticus") introduced by Armenian princes for hunting. The last tiger was shot in 1932 near Prishib village in Talis, Azerbaijan Republic. The principal reasons for the disappearance of these cats was their extermination as predators. The prey for large cats in the region included the wisent, elk, aurochs, tarpan, deer and other ungulates.

Lions remained widespread elsewhere until the mid-19th century when the advent of firearms led to its extinction over large areas. The last sighting of a live Asiatic Lion in Iran was in 1941 (between Shiraz and Jahrom, Fars province). In 1944, the corpse of a lioness was found on the banks of Karun river, Khuzestan province, Iran. There are no subsequent reliable reports from Iran. [cite book | author=Guggisberg, C.A.W. |year=1961 |title= Simba: The Life of the Lion | publisher=Howard Timmins, Cape Town] By the late 19th century the lion had disappeared from Turkey. [cite book | author=Ustay, A.H.|year=1990|title= Hunting in Turkey|publisher=BBA, Istanbul] [Asiatic Lion Information Centre. 2001 Past and present distribution of the lion in North Africa and Southwest Asia. Downloaded on 1 June 2006 from [http://www.asiatic-lion.org/distrib.html] ]

The Barbary Lion

In 1968, a study of the skulls of the extinct Barbary (North African), extinct Cape, Asiatic, and African lions showed that the same skull characteristics - the very narrow bar - that existed in the Barbary and Asiatic lion skulls.Fact|date=March 2007 This shows that there may have been a close relationship between the lions from Northernmost Africa and Asia. It is also believed that the South European lion that became extinct around AD 80-100, could have represented the connecting link between the North African and Asiatic lions. It is believed that Barbary lions possessed the same belly fold (hidden under their manes) that are seen in the Asian lions today. Some Barbary lions may have been bred with the North African subspecies of Asiatic lion, thus producing hybrids that are bigger or smaller than their parents.

Asiatic Lion in Culture

* Found famously on numerous Flags and Coat of Arms all across Asia and Europe, the Asiatic Lions also stand firm on the National Emblem of India.

* Narasimha ("man-lion") (also spelt as "Narasingh", "Narasinga") is described as an incarnation (avatara) of Vishnu within the Puranic texts of Hinduism and is worshiped as "Lion God" thus Indian or Asiatic Lions which were commonly found throughout most of India in ancient times are considered sacred by all Hindus in India.

* Singh is an ancient Indian vedic name meaning "Lion" (Asiatic Lion), dating back over 2000 years to ancient India. It was originally only used by Rajputs a Hindu Kshatriya or military caste in India since the 7th Century. After the birth of the Khalsa brotherhood in 1699, the Sikhs also adopted the name "Singh" due to the wishes of Guru Gobind Singh. Along with millions of Hindu Rajputs today, it is also used by up to 10 million Sikhs worldwide. [Dr. McCleod, Head of Sikh Studies, Department of South Asian Studies, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada] [Khushwant Singh, "A History of the Sikhs, Volume I"]

* "Singhāsana" (lit., seat of a lion)" is the traditional Sanskrit name for the throne of a Hindu kingdom in India since antiquity.

* The island nation of Singapore ("Singapura") derives its name from the Malay words _ms. "singa" (lion) and _ms. "pura" (city), which in turn is from the Sanskrit _sa. िंसह IAST|"siṃha" and _sa. पुर IAST|"pura". [ cite web | url = http://www.bartleby.com/61/46/S0424600.html|title = Singapore| publisher = bartleby.com|accessdate = 2006-04-14 ] According to the Malay Annals, this name was given by a 14th century Sumatran Malay prince named Sang Nila Utama, who, on alighting the island after a thunderstorm, spotted an auspicious beast on shore that his chief minister identified as a lion (Asiatic Lion). [ cite web| title = Early History | url = http://www.sg/explore/history.htm | publisher = Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, Singapore | accessdate = 2006-04-14 ] Recent studies of Singapore indicate that lions have never lived there, and the beast seen by Sang Nila Utama was likely a tiger.

* The Asiatic lion makes repeated appearances in the Bible, most notably as having fought Samson in the Book of Judges.

* The Asiatic lion is the basis of the lion dances that form part of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations, and of similar customs in other Asian countries.

* Chinese guardian lions: Interestingly, the lion is not indigenous to China however Asiatic lions were quite common in neighboring India then. These Asiatic lions [ [http://www.tribuneindia.com/2002/20021006/spectrum/art.htm Where does the Lion come from in ancient Chinese culture? Celebrating with the Lion Dance by B. N. Goswamy, October 6, 2002, The Tribune Newspaper, Chandigarh, India] ] found in nearby India are the ones depicted in the Chinese culture. When Buddhist priests, or possibly traders, brought stories to China about stone Asiatic / Indian lions guarding the entry to Indian Buddhist temples, Chinese sculptors modeled statues after native dogs for use outside their temples as nobody in China had ever seen a real lion before. The mythic version of the animal, was known as the Lion of Fo, the word Fo 佛 being Chinese for Buddha. The Chinese word for lion is "Shi" which was adopted from their Sanskrit name "Sinh" in the neighboring India. The Buddhist version of the Lion was originally introduced to Han China as the protector of dharma and these lions have been found in religious art as early as 208 BC. Gradually they were incorporated as guardians of the Chinese Imperial dharm. Lions seemed appropriate regal beasts to guard the emperor's gates and have been used as such since.

ee also

* Lion
* Sakkarbaug Zoological Garden, Junagadh
* Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project
* Reintroduction
* in-situ conservation
* Wildlife conservation
* Ex-situ conservation
* Extinction
* National Emblem of India
* Narasimha ("man-lion") (also spelt as "Narasingh", "Narasinga") is described as an incarnation (avatara) of Vishnu within the Puranic texts of Hinduism and is worshiped as "Lion God" thus Indian or Asiatic Lions which were commonly found throughout most of India in ancient times are considered sacred by all Hindus in India.
* Singh

References

Cited references

Other references

* Database entry includes justification for why this subspecies is critically endangered
*
* Kaushik, H. 2005. Wire fences death traps for big cats. Times of India, Thursday, October 27, 2005.
*
* Chellam, Ravi, and A. J. T. Johnsingh. "Management of Asiatic Lions in the Gir Forest, India" Symp. Zool. Soc. Lond. (1993), No. 65, 409-424.

External links

* [http://www.asiatic-lion.org/ Asiatic Lion Information Centre (Includes an informative "News" section)]
* [http://www.asiaticlion.org/ Asiatic Lion Protection Society (ALPS), Gujarat, India]
* [http://www.arkive.org/species/GES/mammals/Panthera_leo/more_info.html Lion (Panthera leo)] from “ARKive images of life on Earth” website]
* [http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Panthera_leo.html Panthera leo (lion)] from “Animal Diversity Web”]
* [http://www.vanishingherds.org/ "Vanishing Herds Foundation (VHF), India" comes to the rescue of Asiatic Lion]
* [http://deshgujarat.com/2006/12/21/where-is-the-will-power-to-protect-gujarati-lions/ Asiatic lions in online video (3 videos)]


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