"We have sighted about 100 Asiatic lion cubs in the sanctuary during the four-month closure period which is likely to attract more tourists, including foreigners, to the place," Gir National Park's Deputy Conservator of Forests Sandeep Kumar told PTI over phone today.
This is the first time foresters have seen a substantial jump in the cub count, he said. Gir sanctuary is the sole home of Asiatic lions and is considered to be one of the most important protected areas in Asia due to its supported species.
It remains mandatorily shut for four months during the monsoon period.
"The four months' closure from June 15 to October 15 this year was part of the management plan since it was mating season for the wild animals. The chances of visitors sighting the cubs have increased as many of the little ones are in the tourist zone of the forest," he said.
"As per the 14th lion census conducted in the wildlife sanctuary in May this year, there are 523 Asiatic lions in Gir forest, other protected areas and revenue areas in Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts of Saurashtra region of Gujarat. It means the population has increased by 112 as compared to 411 counted in 2010," Mr Kumar said.
"We have seen an increase in the number of cubs with each passing year. It is possible only because of the cooperation that the forest department gets from villagers and patrolling staff. People immediately inform us if they see an injured cub in the area. This helps reduce mortality," the forest official said.
Taking advantage of the lean season, the forest management conducted special rescue and protection drive during the monsoon time.
"During monsoon, there were chances of animals being infested by maggots, if they sustain injury. We divided our staff into teams and gave them maps. They conducted special drives in the forest, checking on the health status of the animals, giving them treatment when needed," he said.
"While we do this for all animals, our main focus was on the Asiatic lions. We also checked for cubs who might have strayed," Mr Kumar added.