Asiatic lion: a study of ecology and behaviour
The primary aims of this research were to investigate the ecology and behaviour of the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica), and to advise on ways of conserving it. The field research was done between 1968-71 in and around the Gir Forest Wildlife Sanctuary in western India, where the lions are now restricted. The main studies were of the habitat, availa- : bility of wild and domestic prey, food habits based on faecal analysis, lion predation on domestic stock, the inter-relations between lions and people living in the area, lion population dynamics and general behaviour. This research was part of a larger enterprise involving the total ecology of the sanctuary. Evidence for a decline in lion numbers in the recent past has been largely associated with a decrease outside the sanctuary boundaries, where conditions are now so poor that survival is difficult. Oblique aerial photographs showed that most of the original forest has been cleared, and that the landscape is dominated by cultivation with few prey. The human population is rapidly expanding, and outside the sanctuary little can be done to stabilise or improve conditions for lions, since further land development seems inevitable. For these reasons conservation within the sanctuary is vital. Here conditions were much better, but there is cause for concern. Less than six percent of the land was cultivated, but more was being cleared. Based on sample counts, an estimated 44,000 domestic stock but only 5600 wild ungulates lived or grazed within the sanctuary. Analysis of lion faeces collected throughout the sanctuary showed that about 75% of the lion's diet was domestic stock, reflecting its great availability. Study of several hundred kills of domestic stock revealed that catching prey and feeding was difficult. At night, lions ate nothing from 41%9 of domestic animals killed, largely because they were driven away after making kills inside villages. In day time, lions were usually able to eat something, but also lost substantial amounts. More than half of all kills investigated were scavenged by hide collectors. The thesis includes several recommendations to improve the management of the lions while interfering minimally with the ecology of the people. Five estimates of the lion population size were made, averaging 190 and ranging between 100-250. Three indices of lion abundance were prepared for future use in assessing trends. These easily repeatable methods involved few assumptions and did not depend upon making calculations of the actual population size. A behavioural inventory of the lion is also outlined which reviews postures and attitudes, social interaction within the pride, advertisement, prey catching and feeding.