A deadly epidemic may be wiping out the world’s last few Asiatic lions.
In the past one month alone, at least 23 of the big cats have died in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park in the western Indian state of Gujarat. These deaths include those of three cubs and three adult females.
Initially, forest officials suspected some of these deaths to have occurred in a territorial battle. “This is a natural course of action among lions,” Gir forest official GK Sinha had said. Three adult male lions from another area entered the forest in September and killed the cubs in an incident of infighting, Sinha had said.
However, tests conducted at the Indian Council of Medical Research’s National Institute of Virology, Pune, have officially confirmed the presence of the deadly canine distemper virus (CDV) in at least four of the tissue samples extracted from the carcasses.
“CDV is extremely infective (sic). In Serengeti (national park in Tanzania) it killed a 1,000 lions in three weeks. Such epidemics are like natural catastrophes that come without any forewarning. Translocation is good for lion conservation and one has to only follow the supreme court’s order to implement it,” Ravi Chellam, a conservation scientist, told the Mint newspaper.
Environmentalists believe scavenging for food and sharing space with feral dogs has lead to the spread of CDV.
While the lion population has jumped from 411 in 2010 to 523 in 2015, and then to 600 lions by now, Gir’s 1,621 square kilometre area has remained constant. That leaves a decreasing amount of area per lion.
In the meantime, listed as a “critically endangered” species in 2000, the Asiatic lion’s status was upgraded to just “endangered” in 2008 after its numbers increased.
Emails to the ministry of environment, forest, and climate change and to the forest department of Gujarat remained unanswered.
Warning ignored Foreseeing such mass deaths, the supreme court of India had, more than five years ago, ordered the shifting of some lions from Gujarat to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh to keep them safe from such epidemics.
If you got an adventure-hungry mind that always looks forward to get indulge in any adventure activity or want to embark on an adventurous journey somewhere in the wild away from the bustling, crowded cities, then what could be better than a wildlife safari in a remote, dense forest which is the natural habitat of the most dangerous predator and the King of the Jungle, the Lions. Yes! I am talking about the one and only forest which is the natural home to the endangered Asiatic Lion – the Gir National Park. Take your time out from the busy and the hectic city-lifestyle and pack your bag to embark on a wild journey to one of the most famous wildlife destinations in India. No matter whether you travel alone or with friends or with family, the adventurous journey of Gir National Park will not disappoint you with its amazing scenic beauty of a forest and various wild flora and fauna including the King of the forest.
The Gir National Park spreads in a whopping 1412 sq km of area and situated in the Sasan Gir in the Gujarat state of India. The Gir forest was once the Royal hunting ground of the Royals of Junagarh Kingdom. When there were just a few of the Lions left in the forest due to heavy hunting expedition of Royals and British officers, the Nawab of Junagarh took steps to protect these endangered Asiatic Lions. Later, the forest was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1965 and a national park in 1975. The dry deciduous forest of the Gir looks like a dense brown shade covered a large area of the land. The shrubby trees, rocky and dry soil and most of the wild animals are of the same brown shade which makes the Gir forest different than any other forest of India. The Gir forest is the only natural habitat left in the world for the Asiatic Lions. So, if you want to get the sight of Lions roaming freely, then you have to visit here only.
When you chalk out a plan for the wildlife holiday break in the Gir then the first thing that comes to the mind is where the park is located and how to get there without any hassle. As the Gir forest is situated nearby the big and famous cities of Gujarat so it is not a hassle to get there. There are many ways to reach the forest of Gir conveniently. The city of Junagarh and Somanath are the nearest cities to the Gir forest which are located around 60 km and 50 km respectively and connected through the well-maintained state roadways to the Gir. However, the nearest airport is located in Keshod at a distance of 70 km from Gir and the other airport is located at around 160 km in Rajkot. The Junagarh and Rajkot railway stations are well connected to the other cities of India through regular trains. If you are visiting the Gir Park from any corner of India then it is better to reach Rajkot Airport or Railway Station first by Airways or Railways and then take a cab directly to reach Gir, but it will be a costly affair so take the bus to Junagadh and then take an auto-rickshaw or bus to reach Gir. The state-run buses or private buses are frequently available from Rajkot to Junagarh.
Moving Around in Gir
As Sasan Gir is remotely located away from the towns and cities so the availability of the public transport is not so great in and around Gir. So if you want to tour around the place, then you can contact your hotel to hire the Jeep or Car. However, for the safari inside the forest, you have to get the entry permit and also hire the safari Jeep which is registered with the Gir forest department for safari service. In order to catch the safari Jeep, you have to reach the reception center of the Gir Park. With the little extra payment, your pre-booked jeep safari can also pick you up from the hotel and also drop you back after the safari. You should fix the pickup and drop charges in advance so that the Jeep driver could reach early and pick you from the hotel before the safari timing starts.
Jeep Safari – the Major Attraction of Gir
The King of the Jungle, Lions are the prime attraction of the Gir National Park and the sight of the forest King roaming in its natural habitat freely is such an adventurous activity which will give you an adrenaline rush and a memorable holiday. The Jeep Safari is the only medium through which you can get inside the park and trail the king. The Jeep safari in Gir gets organized in the three shifts – early morning shift (6 AM to 9 AM), morning shift (9 AM to 12 PM) and afternoon shift (3 PM to 6 PM). You can book Jeep Safaris online from the website of Sasan Gir National Park. It is always advised that you should book your safari much advance before visiting the Gir as there is heavy rush during holiday seasons and all the safaris sold many days in advance. There is no spot-booking facility for the safari available in the Gir as all the Safaris are booked through the online booking system. The charge of the Jeep is not included in the entry permit charges so you have to book the Jeep separately.
Best time to Getting There
The Gir National Park remains open for the tourist visit is between 16th October and 15th June and closed rest of the year due to the monsoon season. If you are fond of the pleasant weather and lush forest greenery, then the winter season is perfect for you to visit. You will enjoy the forest safari in the Gir Park from November to February. However, the wildlife enthusiasts prefer to visit the park in the summer season as there are much better chances of spotting the Lions and other wild animals of the forest near the water sources. Though the temperature is very high and the weather is very harsh and hot, but you will get much better sighting opportunity during the summer season. Many artificial water pools are made near the safari tracks so the spotting is easy in between March to mid-June as wild animals tend to come out to drink water and cool themselves in the water pool.
Staying Options in Gir
There is no any option to stay in the Gir forest, but there are many luxurious to economical accommodation options are available just nearby the periphery of the Gir National Park. There are few of the five-star properties with ultra luxurious facilities such as The Fern Gir Forest Resort, Woods at Sasan, Taj Gateway, etc. The other luxurious properties with the moderate prices and excellent services are the Gir Jungle Lodge, Anil Farmhouse, Vanvaso Resort, Saavaj Resort, etc. You can also opt for the government-run resort named Sinh Sadan which is a forest guest house managed by the forest department of Gujarat. Most of the resorts and hotels are in between the range of two thousand and 5 thousand per night. The cheaper hotels and guest houses with moderate facilities and services are also available nearby the Gir forest. You can choose one according to your budget.