The first census of lions by Gujarat in 1964 had shown that the numbers of the wild cat had dropped to precarious depths at just 177. According to the last census in May 2010, there are 411 lions in the state. Every year, some 70 cubs are born, but only 56 per cent live to see the third year of their lives. As present, 37 per cent of the population is below three years.
This number, however, is way better when compared with African lions. The website of the Kalahari Predator Conservation Trust, quoting International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), states that food shortage, negligence and the takeover by other male lions results in only 20 per cent of cubs living to experience more than two years of their lives. About 27 per cent of all cubs die from the hierarchical invasion by another male lion.
Says H S Singh, additional principal conservator of forests, "In Gir, the territorial battles seem to be happening at an older age, which has reduced the cannibalism and improved the survival rate of the cubs." Not only within the sanctuary, young cubs are found elsewhere as well. Although they seem to be doing much better in Gir East and Gir West areas within the sanctuary. The wild cats had started moving out of the sanctuary about a decade ago. "Today, they are found in substantial numbers in regions like Amreli and Bhavnagar outside the sanctuary, but the number of cubs is comparatively less here," says Sandeep Kumar, deputy conservator of forest.
A study by V Meena of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, called 'Reproductive Strategy and Behaviour of Male Asiatic Lions', revealed that the survival rate of the cub was the lowest in the first year of birth. It adds that cub survival depends on factors like infanticide (which results in death of 60% cubs), abandonment (13%) and other natural causes (26%).
Yadvendradev Jhala, research associate at WII says, "Thirty-seven per cent cubs in the wild is a very high number. The forest department should not make efforts to save all these newborns as it would mean interfering in the natural process in which the bad genes die and the best survive."