AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) – Indian forestry officials are to shift some of the rare Asiatic lions living in a wildlife sanctuary credited with saving the species from extinction to a new park to further safeguard their numbers.
Officials say separating about 10 lions — which are endemic to India and found in the wild only in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in western Gujarat state — will help protect the animals from floods, disease and poaching.
Pradeep Khanna, chief forest conservator, told Reuters that in the past year at least seven lions had been killed by poachers or had drowned after heavy rains within the sanctuary.
“Our priority is to keep lions safe. By moving a few of them out we are trying to reduce the risk of overburdening the sanctuary.”
Their new home will be an earmarked area of protected land just outside the sanctuary.
In the mid-20th century, India had less than 15 Asiatic lions — which are slightly smaller than their African cousins — after they had been hunted to the verge of extinction by royalty.
But a breeding programme launched in Gir in the 1960s has seen numbers recover, and there are now an estimated 359 lions.
Officials say they are also aiming to curb the number of visitors to Gir as growing interest in seeing the lions was disturbing wildlife.