Gir Forest and the Saga of the Asiatic Lion
Freely-roaming lions instantly remind one of Hemingway's Old Man, who in his dreams frequents the lion-infested shores of Africa; akin to Gujarat's Porbandar coast, but here, only a satellite population survives.
Most of the last remaining Asiatic lions are found in the adjoining Gir Forest. A mere 300 plus of the Asiatic strand is what remains of this magnificent cat born 3.5 million years ago.
The tectonic movements of the Gondwana land split the Asiatic and the African lion species. This was about 100,000 years. The Gir forest and the saga of the Asiatic lion explains how in the days of yore, the Asiatic lion was found in present-day Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Syria up to Greece in Europe, Pakistan and India. Steadily though, the populations were exterminated and survived only in India; these too were spread over several northern states until Gir became the last home of the Asiatic lion. Taking us back in time, the author delves into the conservation history of Gir Forest.
The book is rich in tales of Gir, located as it is at the base of temple-studded hills sacred to the Jains. Gir is a pot pourie of cultures greatly influenced by the Indus Valley civilisation, Asoka the Great, Mauryans, Greeks, Babi Pathans and the Moghuls. Here, poaching as a sport continued until the Nawab of Junagadh and his family realised that the lion population had plummeted. Though some protection was afforded to the lions in the late 19th century, a complete ban on the hunting of lions came into effect only in 1983, eight years after it was declared a National Park.
History frequently overlaps in Mitra's chapters, and tends to jump back and forth constantly. The author takes the reader through the role of the local tribes, the human-lion conflict and the impact of tourists to the Kamaleshwara temple that is located within the National Park. The author also probes the proposal for relocation and touches upon the futility of captive breeding. Will we, the author questions, lose our ˜pride" to interbreeding, political conflict, and a host of other problems. The photographs in the book are disappointing and though the text is detailed, this book does not offer anything new about this highly threatened habitat and its endangered species.
Reviewed by Shivani Shah
By Sudipta Mitra, Published by: Indus Publishing Company, Hardcover Price Rs. 650/-