'Site'ing the right reasons: critical evaluation of conservation planning for the Asiatic lion

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2009
Authors:Venkataraman, M
Journal:European Journal of Wildlife Research
Date Published:2009
Keywords:Panthera leo

The resurrection of Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) from the brink of extinction is a remarkable conservation success story. Yet, occurrence of lions as a single population makes them vulnerable to extinction from genetic and environmental factors. Asiatic lions exist as a single free ranging population of 360 individuals in Gir Protected Area (PA; about 290 lions) and surrounding satellite areas (68 lions), namely Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS), coastal areas, hill ranges extending from Mitiyala-Savarkundla-Palitana-Shihor spreading across Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts of Gujarat State, India. This paper traces the conservation history, current conservation pressures, and critically evaluates current conservation planning based on lion ecology and existing anthropogenic pressures. Conservation proposals for translocation of lions to alternate habitats in Kuno WLS and Barda WLS are awaiting final implementation. An alternate initiative is aimed at developing satellite lion habitats, improving corridor connectivity, and facilitating natural dispersal and expansion of lion habitats. The paper evaluates human population living within 2 km boundary of lion habitats and between Gir PA and satellite habitats to show that dispersing lions have to cross heavily populated habitations taking refuge in agriculture fields and scattered forest patches. Satellite habitats vary in size from 18 km2 (Mitiyala WLS) to 250 km2 (scattered forests Hipavadli-Savarkundla-Palitana zone along Shetrunji river) and are inadequate to maintain natural ranging and movement requirements of territorial lions. These habitats are varied in vegetation, terrain, human pressure, and distance to source population. Though satellite lion habitats are important suboptimal habitats for dispersing lions, long-term conservation planning require planned restoration of mosaic habitats for growing populations. © 2009 Springer-Verlag.

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