Tag Archives: India

Lions in Pakistan – wild or released – implications?

The last of lion killed in the regions of Pakistan was shot in 1842 near Kot Diji in Sindh.

However, with conserved population of the species (hosted by the Gir Forest in Gujarat, India) now expanding to the south and west, the possibility of lions leaving their protected areas and eventually expanding their range north or west into Pakistan is a possibility.


Recent social media alludes to active trade in lion cubs

There are even hints that lions have already moved into the Pakistani countryside bordering India (Naqaush, 2014).

Is another explanation possible? Might captive animals be  released in remote areas and then been seen and considered ‘wild’ specimens?

Recent social media posts allude to an active trade in cubs. When cubs become adults they become a new proposition. What if a collector or breeder ends up with too many males or an incompatible pair? Where do these captive lions come from? India is unlikley, africa, or african-origin captive history is more likely. WHat if those ex-captives hybridise with the wild asiatic lion?

The local countryside might, to an unwise but disgruntled owner, seem a good place to make unwanted animals ‘disappear’…for lion conservation it could be a whole new problem.


Mulki , M.A. (2012)A Walk on the Wild Side. The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 29th. http://tribune.com.pk/story/326966/a-walk-on-the-wild-side/

Naqaush, T. (2014) Asiatic lion spotted in AJK national park, DAWN Febraury 5thhttp://www.dawn.com/news/1085010/asiatic-lion-spotted-in-ajk-national-park

Rural, sub-urban & urban cats: understanding unintended impacts in the dynamics of big cat conservation

Alley cat by Nayan Khanolkar

A leopard ghosts through an alley in a suburb of Mumbai bordering Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Leopards often enter the streets at night, which can lead to conflict with humans. This outstanding photo taken by India’s Nayan Khanolkar, was Urban category winner in the Natural History Museum’s 2016 Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

Leopards have been shown to shift territories in areas where tiger conservation in protected areas has allowed the larger species to dominate a habitat. This means that leopards, a highly adaptable species, are pushed into rural and urban areas. Inevitably, this brings them into conflict with people.

Although leopards may adapt and co-habit with tigers and people, depending on the prey-base available to all three species, leopards themselves are the underdogs in these interactions. There is some evidence that leopards adapt with nocturnal dispersal into human landscapes (to avoid contact with the humans already living there). The photograph above is an illustration of this sort of behaviour (other insights in this short clip )

It appears that leopards avoid tigers in space, but humans in time and these differences in behaviour have implications for managing conservation in areas where human-dominated landscapes border leopard and tiger territories.


Further reading:

Carter, N., Jasny, M., Gurung, B. and Liu J. (2015) Impacts of people and tigers on leopard spatiotemporal activity patterns in a global biodiversity hotspot. Global Ecology and Conservation 3(1): 149:162.  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2351989414000833

Nichols, S. (2014) Conservation targeting tigers pushes leopards to change. Michigan State University http://csis.msu.edu/news/conservation-tigers-pushes-leopard-change





New steps forward now possible for India’s lions?

India s lion relocation news cutting

After decades of political debate, it is now possible that a small number of India’s lions will be translocated into the Kuno wildlife reserve. This offers a major opportunity to expand the population away from the high density situation currently apparent in the Gir forest in Gujarat (which is currently surrounded by highly populated rural landscape).

A translocation was prrevioulsy attempted in 1957 in Chandrprabha Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh but failed due to lack of follow up, monitoring and management.

The Kuno Sanctuary itself was first surveyed in 1993-4 as part of an assessment of possible additional habitats for lions. It provides a chance to have a second wild population kept clear of the Gir population as an insurance against unforeseen threats, such as infectious disease.

Venkataraman (2010) suggests two ways of optimizing the natural dispersal of lions, either (i) adaptive population management within the satellite habitats by translocating and active management of the sub-poluations or (ii) facilitating the corridors for natural dispersal. A new population in Kuno  would represent option 1. A future Kuno population would be mamnaged alongside existing sub-populations which have already dispered into areas outside the Gir forest including  coastal areas to the south, Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS), and hill ranges extending from MitiyalaSavarkundla-Palitana-Shihor towards the Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts of Gujarat.

The coming years will be an interesting time for active conservtion management of lions.




Chellam, R., Joshua, J., Williams, C.A. & Johnsingh, A.J.T. (1995) Survey of Potential Sites for Reintroduction of Asiatic Lions. Unpublished Report, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, India.

Divyabhanusinh, C. (2005) The Story of Asia’s Lions. Marg Publications, Mumbai, India.

Johnsingh, A.J.T. , Goyal, S.P.  and Qureshi, Q. (2007) Preparations for the reintroduction of Asiatic lion Panthera leo persica into Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh, India. Oryx , 41(1), 93–96.

Venkataraman, M. (2010) ‘Site’ing the right reasons: critical evaluation of conservation planning for the Asiatic lion Meena. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 2010, Vol.56(2), pp.209-213

Lions in Pakistan or on the shores of the Arabian sea?

Lions survived in the territories of Pakistan up until the mid 1800s, the last of them believed to be killed in 1842 near Kot Diji in Sindh, so its presence there is essentially ancient history.

However there have been recent rumours of lions being spotted in a national park of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, with observers suggesting that these are animals migrating from India. However the lion stronghold of  Gujarat in India (particularly the Gir Forest and the Arabian coastal strip) are hundreds of miles south. These unusual  sightings may relate to mis-identification of other animals (such as leopards) or, more speculatively, released animals from clandestine captive collections (the latter has been suggested for leopard sightings in Mediterranean western Turkey in the late 20th Century).

On the rocks in a Gujarat port – ready to take a swim. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7D6G-AhSts

There have been incidents of illegal trade in live African lions into Pakistan in the recent past; how do you get rid of illegal lions? Could that be part of the explanation? In addition of course there are a number of zoos in Pakistan which have captive Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) in their animal collections, although these rare specimens would most likely be kept properly secure. Nevertheless the fact that lions are present in the peninsular of north-western India raises some interesting sightings. Animals from the Gir forest (landlocked by extensive tracts of agricultural land) sometimes have to disperse.

By moving across agricultural landscapes and areas of human habitation a small but significant number end up living adjacent to industrial sites, within small coastal forest scrub lands and adjacent to busy ports. The spectacle of a lion walking along a beach or being seen swimming in the sea is, despite its apparently improbability, a matter of fact.


Anon (2016) Lion spotted in Arabian Sea off Gujarat coast, rescued. Pakistan Telegraph (ANI) Sunday 3rd January 2016  http://www.pakistantelegraph.com/index.php/sid/239929847

Anon (2010) Four lions Imported illegally to Karachi. BBC News South East Asia  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12074775

Khan, H.N. and Craig, T. (2015) In North-west Pakistan big cats are more feared than global terrorists, The Guardian Weekly/Washington Post 19th September 2015.

Mulki ,M.A. (2012)A Walk on the Wild Side. The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 29th. http://tribune.com.pk/story/326966/a-walk-on-the-wild-side/

Naqaush, T. (2014) Asiatic lion spotted in AJK national park, DAWN Febraury 5th http://www.dawn.com/news/1085010/asiatic-lion-spotted-in-ajk-national-park




More on the Northern (near) extinctions

The demise of lions from northern regions (above the Sahara) followed a sequence starting in Europe in ancient historical times, central Asia and Egypt and along the North African coast, then a slow shrinkage from the eastern Mediterranean countries.

Small populations of Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) clung on in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan to the end of the 19th Century and some micro populations continued in the latter three countries into the 20th century, but have only remained in the Gir forest in India since that time.

The Barbary lion (Panthera leo leo) disappeared from coastal Morocco in regions near the larger human population centres in the 19th century, but survived in remote areas of the High Atlas of Morocco and the Saharan Atlas (north central Algeria) and Aures mountains in northeastern Algeria into the second half of the 20th century.

detailed lion extinctions in North Africa and Middle east to India (Black version 2015)


Bartosiewicz, L. (2009) A lion’s share of attention: Archaeoogy and the Historical Record. Acta Archaeologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae. DOI: 10.1556/AArch.59.2008.2.2

Black SA, Fellous A, Yamaguchi N, Roberts DL (2013) Examining the Extinction of the Barbary Lion and Its Implications for Felid Conservation. PLoS ONE 8(4): e60174. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060174

Was the lion ever native to India?

lion india ashokaIn 2013 a book was published by Valmik Thapar which presented the idea that both the cheetah and the lion were most probably non-native species in India, introduced as captive animals from Africa or Central Asia, trained or used for Royal entertainment in the many substantial parks across the subcontinent and, with the demise of the various imperial and local royal dynasties between the 1200s and the mid 20th century, feral animals had become established as wild populations, hence the species now being seen as native (and rare – the lion, or extinct  -the cheetah).

This is an intriguing idea. The basis for these ideas runs from the lack of early accounts of either lion or cheetah in the region, but the subsequent rise of the follwing occurences in the time since Alexander the Great:

  • An active series of royal hunting parks and hunitng as a royal passtime with the use of lions and cheetahs being particlualry culturally important
  • Animals were exported to India from Central Europe and the middle east and also from Africa
  • The genetics of Indian lions show inbreeding suggesting an originally tiny population (escapee captive animals)
  • The genetics of captive Asiatic Lions (in the USA) shows traits of African subspecies.
  • Indian lions are ‘tame’ relative to their African counterparts (including accounts form North Africa)

Thapar and his co-writers concede that they examine this as naturalists and hitorians, rather than from a deep scientific examination of evidence. But the proposal does raise testable questions:

What are the research implications?

Do we understand the genetics of Indian lions relative to (and as different from) African lions? See recent work by Barnett et al. (2014).

Are all Asiatic lions Asiatic-African hybrids? This was the case in American Zoo animals in the 1980s – but those zoos may have mismanaged Asiatic-African pairings in captivity earlier in the 20th century.

What are the conservation implications?

Should Asiatic lions still be conserved? – YES – even if they are non-native to India, they are the last remnants of the lions which once ranged from Egypt to India (i.e. to the banks of the Indus river).

Might Indian lions be close relatives of Barbary Lions? – This is an intriguing possibility (see Barnett et al. 2014).

What about an Indian – Moroccan Royal lions Hybrid? – if Indian lions are ‘tame’ (which is NOT the case with many captive Moroccan Royal lions), then you could out-breed ‘tameness’ and retain an authentic the asiatic (northern) subspecies of lion. Similalry Asiatic lioins could eb used to retain or ‘clean up’ the Moroccan lions if they are wshown to be Barbary/subSaharan hybrids.


There is little reason to accept Thapar’s hypotheses. Improvements in genetic analysis will enable us to better understand lion phylogeny in due course. In the meantime, precaution suggests continued efforts in Indian lion conservation are strongly recommended.



Anon (2014) New Genetic Study Reconstructs Distribution History of Lion. Sci-News.com http://www.sci-news.com/genetics/science-distribution-lion-01892.html

Barnett, R. et al. (2014) Revealing the maternal demographic history of Panthera leo using ancient DNA and a spatially explicit genealogical analysis. BMC Evolutionary Biology 14: 70; doi: 10.1186/1471-2148-14-70

Thapar V., Thapar R., and Ansari Y. (2013) Exotic Aliens: the lion and cheetah in India. Aleph, India.


To worship the lion

Sketch of a pride of Cave lions. Note the lack of manes on the big standing male. Art by Tabitha Paterson (@TabithaPaterson)

Sketch of a pride of Cave lions. Note the lack of manes on the big standing male. Art by Tabitha Paterson (@TabithaPaterson)

We think of lions, today, as African animals. This is mostly true. However, there is still a tiny refugium of non-African lions, isolated in the Kathiawar peninsula of India, and centred on the Gir forest reserve. Here, 400 or so Asian lions eke out an existence, beset on all sides by people and farmland, the last remnants of an empire that once spread from Tunisia via Turkey to the Tigris and beyond.  But, even this is only a fraction of the range that lions once held.

During the Pleistocene, highly differentiated lion subspecies (or perhaps separate species, opinion is divided) roamed from Spain to Siberia, through the steppes of Beringia, and into the Americas as far south as Mexico. Their fossils are surprisingly common in Britain too. In fact, excavation of the site of Trafalgar square uncovered a number of lion fossils where now their equally impressive bronze cousins lie today. The cave lion (Panthera spelaea) occupied all of Eurasia and Beringia. The closely related American lion (Panthera atrox) was found over the contiguous lower 48 states.

Range of lions since the Pleistocene. Image by Ross Barnett

Range of lions since the Pleistocene. Image by Ross Barnett

The cave lion is, and was, a pretty special felid. Considerably larger than modern lions, it was the apex predator of the Pleistocene food web (with perhaps some competition from Homotherium).  As it lived in Europe at the same time as anatomically modern humans, it has been depicted in numerous pieces of parietal and portable art. The cave walls of Chauvet and Lascaux contain brilliantly realistic images of this extinct animal, showing that it lived in prides, and that males were maneless. We know this because in a few images, the adult male scrotum is obvious, and the mane is absent.

Pride of cave lions from Chauvet cave. Public domain image.

Pride of cave lions from Chauvet cave. Public domain image.

It also seems that early Europeans had some kind of cultural affinity for the cave lion. One of the most amazing pieces of art to come from this period, exquisitely crafted from mammoth ivory, shows a half-lion, half-human chimera. This löwenmensch, as it is known in german, testifies to some kind of ritual or mythic importance for the cave lion in the culture of the time. Like the venus figurines, löwenmensch, have been found at multiple sites, showing that the idea was not just an isolated one but shared amongst communities.

Löwenmensch from Hohlenstein-Stadel. Image by Dagmar Hollmann via Wikimedia Commons. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Löwenmensch from Hohlenstein-Stadel. Image by Dagmar Hollmann via Wikimedia Commons. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Further reading:

Nice piece by the Telegraph, featuring our very own Ross Barnett: ‘Super-sized lions’ roamed UK in Ice Age.

Barnett, R., et al. (2014), ‘Revealing the maternal deomgraphic history of Panthera leo using ancient DNA and a spatially explicit genealogical analysis’, BMC Evolutionary Biology, 14, 70. [Full Article]

Barnett, R., et al. (2009), ‘Phylogeography of lions (Panthera leo ssp.) reveals three distinct taxa and late Pleistocene reduction in genetic diversity’, Molecular Ecology, 18 (8), 1668-77. [Abstract]

Conard, N. J. (2003), ‘Palaeolithic ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany and the origins of figurative art’, Nature, 426 (6968), 830-32. [Abstract]

Franks, J. W. (1960), ‘Interglacial deposits at Trafalgar Square’, The New Phytologist, 59, 145-150Montellano-Ballesteros, M. and Carbot-Chanona, G. (2009), ‘Panthera leo atrox (Mammalia: Carnivora: Felidae) in Chiapas, Mexico’, The Southwestern Naturalist, 54 (2), 217-22. [Abstract]

Montellano-Ballesteros, M., and G. Carbot-Chanona (2009). ‘Panthera Leo Atrox (Mammalia: Carnivora: Felidae) in Chiapas, Mexico.’ The Southwestern Naturalist 54, no. 2 , 217-22. [Abstract]

Packer, C. and Clotte, J. (2000), ‘When Lions Ruled France’, Natural History, 109, 52-57. [Full Article]


Posted on BarbaryLion with thanks to Ross Barnett and colleagues at TwilightBeasts: Jan Freedman (@janfreedman), Tabitha Paterson (@TabithaPaterson), and Rena Maguire (@justrena).
Article originally posted on by :


Room to move in?

Picture a valley in North Africa, described by Yamaguchi & Haddane (2002):
Forests 02 00777f3 1024“…Between the Middle and High Atlas lies a rocky mountainous area where green oaks dominate the landscape…where the endangered Barbary leopard may still survive… Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus), Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia) and wild boars live there, and Cuvier’s gazelles (Gazella cuvieri) and Barbary red deer (Cervus elaphus barbarus) may also be reintroduced…lions may be released into a securely-fenced semi-natural enclosure…to live with minimum human intervention…, releasing them into an open area is out of question… “

In the North African biosphere, the prey biomass densities are much lower than in the savannahs of Sub-Saharan  Africa or the dry forests of western India. The Moroccan Atlas is likely, on average, to be able to support probably less than four lions per 100km2. In the Gir Forest in Gujarat, India, where domestic livestock as a supplementary prey base, the carrying capacity of lions is estimated  at around 15 lions per 100 km2 (Banerjee et al., 2013).

Other comparisons with the higher energy, prey dense  and open landscape of the Gujarat (where lions can leave the forest for surrounding human-dominated areas in times of food shortfalls) show how constrained the landscape in North Africa would be:

  • Gir Forest, Gujarat (1500 km2) – 400 lions
  • Kodinar coastal forest, Gujarat (60 km2) 12+ lions

Translocation of lions in India has been planned for some time. The planned release site in Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary (an area of 900 km2) would involve reintroduction of only 5-8 animals intially (with plans to move 1-2 adult males every 5 years out of the sanctuary). So, even in a relatively large and currently established wildlife habitat with a reasonably dense prey base, only a very small number of lions would be released.

Additional complications of home range size and number of groups would be a major constraint for any lion reintroduction in North Africa. Would North African animals live in large prides as cmomonly encountered on the African savannah, in family groups, or would a single lioness holds resource territory while male coalitions attempt to maximize female groups within their range, as in India? (Black et al., 2013; Yadvendradev et al, 2009)?

Whilst having wild lions back in North Africa is a big dream for some, it has practical limitations. And then there are the significant needs of local people…


Banerjee K, Jhala YV, Chauhan KS, Dave CV (2013) Living with Lions: The Economics of Coexistence in the Gir Forests, India. PLoS ONE 8(1): e49457. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049457

Black SA, Fellous A, Yamaguchi N, Roberts DL (2013) Examining the Extinction of the Barbary Lion and Its Implications for Felid Conservation. PLoS ONE 8(4): e60174. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060174

Linares, J.C.,  Taïqui, L. and  Camarero, J.J. (2011) Increasing Drought Sensitivity and Decline of Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica) in the Moroccan Middle Atlas Forests Forests, 2(3), 777-796; doi:10.3390/f2030777

Yamaguchi N, Haddane B. (2002) The North African Barbary lion and the Atlas Lion Project. International Zoo News 49 (321): 465-481.

Yadvendradev, V.J. et al. (2009) Home range and habitat preference of female lions (Panthera leo persica) in Gir forests, India. Biodiversity and Conservation.DOI: 10.1007/s10531-009-9648-9

Can North Africa take lessons from Indian conservation?

Mountain, forest, steppe, coastal regions, dense populations, agro-ecosystems, pastoral pressures on natural landscapes, diverse range of native species. These words could describe both the mediterranean biome of North Africa and major biomes in India. Most strikingly, several of the major species associated with North Africa are represented in some regions in India. The lion, leopard and striped hyena are most notably present, so perhaps the practical experience of working with lions and leopards in Gujarat in north-western India offers clues to how the recovery of Maghreb ecosystems in future decades could be modelled.

Gujarat is a region of high population density with a landscape that has experienced considerable human modification for agriculture. Additionally there is a local pastoral popuation, the Maldhari, who live inside the national park, home to the Asiatic lion. The lions themselves are also not confined to the national park and have been known to range far across the agricultural regions of Gujarat, increasingly so in the past few decades. Lions have set up home on the scrublands on the southern coastal region of the state, suprisingly close to population centres and human infrastructure.

North Africa's historical biodiversity is compatible with India temperate regions - even elephant existed in the Maghreb until historical times. Modern India is justifiably proud of its biodiversity heritage [Map adapted with North African additions from concept by Karanth (2014) photos: K. Varma, N. Mehta, S. Mahanta, H.S. Singh, H. Malik].

North Africa’s historical biodiversity (left) is comparable with India’s temperate regions – elephant existed in the Maghreb in historic times [Adapted from Karanth (2014)  photos: K. Varma, N. Mehta, S. Mahanta, H.S. Singh, H. Malik; S Black].

Further reading:

Anon (2012) Lions make coastal belt their home. Times of India

Jain A. (2014) Why dozens of India’s Asiatic lions are Dying. BBC News  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-29009234

Karanth, K.U. (2014) Fifty Years of Conservation. National Geographic Voices, Posted by Wildlife Conservation Society on November 9, 2014 http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2014/11/09/50-years-of-conservation-in-india/


Would a big cat species be able to survive in North Africa today?

A significant argument against reintroduction of lions into North Africa is that with the combination of deforestation, desertification and impacts on landscapes, plus the continued ingress of human communities, livestock and infrastructure into formerly wild areas, there is little space for a large carnivore in the region.

However the experience with lions in India is that the animals can be quite resourceful in surviving in a region which is relatively heavily populated. In Gujarat, India the human population is 310/km2 (800/sq mi). In Algeria this is 16/km2, but it should be noted that most of the land area is desert. In Tunisia there is proportionally less desert and the human density is 70/km2. In Morocco it is 74/km2.(World bank).

However larger cats still appear to hang on (just) – indeed the leopard may still survive in the Atlas mountains, although last seen in the late 1990s. A much smaller feline, the serval has been recently spotted in the Atlas for the first time. Most of the other species keep to remote Saharan areas.

In the southern fringes of the region where the Saharan and the Sahel link to sub-saharan Africa, several cat species are present, even if in low numbers. Scat analysis by scientists working in southern Algeria identified continued presence of leopard. Several cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus hecki) were shot during the early 1990s in southern Morocco and Cuzin (2003) suggested although  a few individuals could survive (less than 20), they are most likely extinct. Recent camera trapping in southern Algeria (covering an area of 2,800 square kilometres) the first systematic survey across the central Sahara identified four individual cheetahs.

The first camera trap footage showing a cheetah in southern Algeria in . Credit: Farid Belbachir/ZSL/OPNA; courtesy of Wildlife Conservation Society (2009)


Busby et al (2009) Genetic analysis of scat reveals leopard (Panthera pardus) and cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) in Algeria. Oryx, 43(3), 412–415

Première nationale: un serval photographié dans le moyen Atlas http://ecologie.ma/premiere-nationale-un-serval-photographie-dans-le-moyen-atlas/ (photo: Salim Meghni)

Wildlife Conservation Society. “Critically Endangered Cheetahs In Algeria Snapped With Camera Trap.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 February 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090227082603.htm>.

World Bank http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.POP.DNST accessed October 2014.