By 1900, Gir held the last viable population of Asiatic lions, just two dozen strong. After satiating his desire for killing big cats, the district’s ruling prince, Nawab Rasulkhanji of Junagadh, placed strict restrictions on hunting the lions, a moratorium that would save them.
After independence in 1947, India formalized the nawab’s edicts by setting up lion reserves on the southern tip of the Kathiawar Peninsula in Gujarat, starting with the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in 1965, later to expand and become the Gir Conservation Area.
In 2010, the lion census identified 411 individuals, which included about 150 sub-adults and cubs.
Many people worry about harm coming to the last of a species confined to the same area. They could be wiped out by disease or fire. However, the Gir Sanctuary is determined to hang on to their animals.
Also, contact between lion and human is conflicted. People and their livestock want the same land. Gir lions sometimes take domesticated buffalo and cattle belonging to the local Maldhari people. Lions are rarely the winner.
A lion cub shocked forest rangers at the Indian sanctuary by leading them to the body of his mother. In the Gir sanctuary inside Gujarat state there has been very little conflict with humans and lions recognize their individual guards.
When a ranger found the small cub, not the one pictured, hiding in bushes alone, he followed to find the body of the lioness, who was around 11-years-old. The state official said the cub's peculiar behavior alerted him to the fact that something could be wrong. The guard left to find help to move the body. When several rangers returned, they found the 15-month-old cub had remained next to his mother.
A postmortem examination revealed that the lioness had probably died in a fight, possibly with a water buffalo, and she had broken ribs and internal injuries.
Deputy Conservator of Forests, Mr Sharma says lions are known for their social behavior. The mother seemed to be a loner who lived and hunted alone. Now the lioness is gone, they expect the cub to join another group, or another lioness may start looking after it.
However, forest officials will keep the cub under the constant observation.
It's great to hear a story about humans and animals living in harmony, and be left with a heart-warming ending.