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Wednesday, 26 October 2016 | Nayan Dave | GANDHINAGAR
Gir Wildlife Sanctuary — the last abode of Asiatic Lions which reopened for visitors after four months on 16th of this month, is witnessing overwhelming response from tourists across the globe as its safari tours have been fully booked for the first three months of 2016-17 tourist season.
According to official sources in the State forest department, the bookings are only done online for the jungle trail (Safari) inside the forest areas where maximum number of lions generally spotted. Ahead of the tourist season, which generally starts post Diwali, tourist from all across the globe booked their slots in advance, said the sources.
“Such overwhelming response is due to State tourism department’s advertising campaign endorsed by Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan played pivotal role to popularise the sanctuary. Along with other tourist destinations, Gir too was marketed globally. As a result of these efforts, tourists literally throng to Gir area,” said a senior official in the forest department.
The State forest department can issue 90 permits in a day. From November onwards all the permits have been booked in advance for the next 90 days. It means, no tourist would be allowing inside the Sanctuary for Safari. However, visitors need not to be disappointed as Gujarat forest department has developed an interpretation zone in over 400 hectares of land on the outskirts of Sanctuary where Asiatic Lions can be seen. Each permit allows six members to spend about three hours inside the sanctuary. In all, 1.32 lakh tourists visited the sanctuary in 2015-16.
It is worth mentioning that the Gir Sanctuary remains closed every year from June 15th to October 15th in wake of mating season of wild animals including the Asiatic Lions. But the Interpretation Centre at Devalia remains open entire year except for Wednesdays.
Scientifically known Panthera leo persica, the Asiatic lion found only in Saurashtra region of Gujarat. Also known as Indian Lion or Persian Lion is listed as International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In the last census conducted in the year 2015 in its strolling areas of over 20,000 sq km in Saurashtra region, there were 523 lions including 109 adult males, 201 adult females and 213 cubs.
The Asiatic Lion is one of the five big cat species found in the country. The other four species are Bengal Tiger, Indian Leopard, Snow Leopard and Clouded Leopard. Once upon a time the Asiatic lion was found in West, South and Central Asian regions as well as in Eastern Europe. Now its areas shrink to Saurashtra region.

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