As you might know, there are two main subspecies of lions extant today. One is the African Lion - members of which number in thousands and who you see almost daily in documentaries and programs on nature channels. The other, less well known, subspecies is the Asiatic Lion. Not many are aware of these lions, who number in a few hundreds and are seldom seen on television or in zoos owing to their extremely limited population. These are the lions whose plight I want to highlight today.
At one time Panthera Leo Persica, the Asiatic Lion, ranged from Mediterranean to India, covering a vast expanse of land and having a healthy overall population. However, as with many other animals, their sad story of decline is reminiscent of how the advent of modern firearms and habitat encroachment by man has led to permanent devastation of our fauna and flora. Lions were wiped off the map in most of their former range and by the turn of last century were only left in a small pocket in Northwestern India. Fortunately at that point in time sanity prevailed and the last remaining Asiatic Lions were given a protected status. You can read more about them on my Asiatic Lion page.
Today the only wild population of Asiatic Lions exists in a small reserve by the name of Gir, in the western Indian state of Gujarat. There are roughly between three to four hundred animals remaining here who face a multitude of threats including conflicts with humans and hunting by poachers, electrocution by illegal electrical fences set up by farmers around their fields and limited genetic variability. But perhaps the most significant threat facing them is the presence of thousands of open wells all across the forest. These wells were dug up by natives in the past years and are now like death traps for the local wildlife. Many beautiful lions have faced permanent injury or death owing to inadvertent falls in these holes.
The situation, therefore, in Gir is serious. Something needs to be done about the wells. There is only one organization, Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), working for the preservation of these magnificent yet endangered animals. They've got a very beautiful and informative website www.asiaticlion.org as well as a frequently updated blog asiatic-lion.blogspot.com in which they provide up-to-date news about the current situation in Gir and the status of the lions. As you might know, India is still a developing nation. The conservationists of WCT are trying their level best to protect the big cats but are still short in funding that they desperately need to cover up most of the wells in and around the park. Recently they were pledged some outside funding, but they still are in need of money to do something about the remaining thousands of wells still present in Gir.
A few days back I was contacted via email by Kishore Kotecha of the WCT. He drew my attention to the need of highlighting the open wells issue and a wonderful presentation that WCT has created in this regards. You can reach it here: http://www.asiaticlion.org/openwell.pps. I personally found it to be very moving and I sincerely hope that these beautiful lions can prevail against the many odds that they face currently. I've asked Kishore to set up a donate button on their website in order that we may be able to offer some help online. He is in the process of acquiring permission from Indian Government in order to be able to accept the donations. As soon as he does that I'll let you guys know by posting a link to it. Meanwhile you can still go to asiaticlion.org to learn about these majestic lions and their battle for survival in the wild!