By David O’Sullivan
Fota are pleased to announce the addition of a new species to their Wildlife Park. In recent days, two Asian lions arrived in Fota Wildlife Park from Helsinki in Finland. These two females (Gita and Gira) completed their arduous journey across six countries from their Finnish home and eventually arrival safely to Fota. Their arrival in Fota is of monumental importance as they settle into life in the park’s Asian Sanctuary. The Asian Sanctuary is already home to a number of critically endangered species including both the Sumatran tiger, Indian rhino Francois langur and Visayan warty pigs.
The majestic Asiatic lion once roamed across the Middle East and Asia, from Greece to Bangladesh, However, by the early 1900s the species had been hunted to the brink of extinction. Today, an estimated 500 Asiatic lions exist in the wild, living in the Indian state of Gujarat, Western India. The Gir Forest National Park and Sanctuary remains the stronghold for this species in the 21st Century and its protection is of paramount importance.
The lions live closely alongside humans in their last remaining natural habitat, including the Maldhari community, who live within the Gir Forest. A small number of prides are also found living outside of the protected areas, amongst local communities in the surrounding farmland and hills. Apart from Asiatic lions, the Gir Forest is also home to a wealth of biodiversity, including langur monkeys, jackals, leopards, antelope, deer, crocodiles and over 300 bird species.
Due to conservation initiatives, this small population is steadily increasing but the species is listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as it is still vulnerable to many threats. An outbreak of contagious disease or natural disaster could have drastic consequences for the species.
Although on first glance, both the African and Asian Lion appear to be similar in appearance, the Asiatic lion differs from the African lion in its genetic make-up and skeletal structure. Compared to their African cousins, Asian lions have shaggier coats, with a longer tassel on the end of the tail and longer tufts of hair on the elbows. The most noticeable physical characteristic found in all Asian lions, but rarely in African lions, is a longitudinal fold of skin running along their belly.
The mane of the Asian lion is generally shorter than that of the African lion, so the ears are always visible. Asian lions are, in general, slightly smaller than African lions.
Sean McKeown, director of Fota Wildlife Park said, ‘Protecting the remaining Asiatic lions in the wild is crucial to enable the population to grow and ensure the future survival of this irreplaceable species. However the population of almost 200 Asian lions within Zoos and Parks form and an essential safeguard and genetic resource if disease, social economic factors or political issues cause a dramtic fall in the wild populations as has happened in the past. Fota Wildlife Park is committed to the conservation of this species and long-term the wildlife park hopes to contribute to the captive breeding programme for one of the world’s most endangered big cats.’
A male Asian lion from a Spanish Zoo is due to join the two females Asian lions at Fota later this summer and hopefully start a new pride. The Asian Lions will be visible to visitors at the Asian Sanctuary in Fota Wildlife Park from this weekend, June 4th.
- The Asian Lion (Panthera leo persica) is a subspecies of the lion which survives today only in India and therefore it is also known as the Indian or Gir lion. Asian Lions once ranged from the Mediterranean to India, covering most of Southwest Asia where it was also known as the Persian Lion.
- Like their African cousins, Asian lions are highly sociable animals living in social units called prides. The Asian lion pride is smaller. Studies have shown that most Gir prides contain just two adult females as compared to the average African pride which contains 4 to 6 adult females.
- Male Asian lions measure 1.7 – 2.5 metres long and weigh 150 – 250 kilograms, while female Asian lions measure 1.4 – 1.75 metres in length and weigh in at 120 – 182 kilograms. The Asian lions tail averages around 70 – 105 centimetres long.
- Similar to most large cats Asian lions are equipped with powerful retractable claws and long sharp canine teeth that are used in dragging their prey to the ground.
- The Asian lion is a carnivore. Its typical diet consists of deer, antelope, wild boar and buffalo.
- Mating is not seasonal and takes place all year round. Male Asian lions reach sexual maturity at around 5 years old and female Asian lions reach sexual maturity earlier at around 4 years old. The gestation period last for between 100 – 119 days after which 1 – 6 cubs are born. Intervals between births can be 18 – 26 months.