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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

oldest Lion passes away at Sakkarbaug Zoo

In 1513, a group of men led by Vasco Núñez de Balboa marched across the Isthmus of Panama and discovered the Pacific Ocean. They had been looking for it—they knew it existed—and, familiar as they were with oceans, they had no difficulty in recognizing it when they saw it. On their way, however, they saw a good many things they had not been looking for and were not familiar with. When they returned to Spain to tell what they had seen, it was not a simple matter to find words for everything. For example, they had killed a large and ferocious wild animal. They called it a tiger, although there were no tigers in Spain and none of the men had ever seen one before. Listening to their story was Peter Martyr, member of the King's Council of the Indies and possessor of an insatiable curiosity about the new land that Spain was uncovering in the west. How, the learned man asked them, did they know that the ferocious animal was a tiger? 

Lions and tigers are among the most ferocious animals but there are important differences between them.   Lions are majestic !  Lions have been admired throughout history for as symbols of courage and strength. These iconic animals have powerful bodies—in the cat family, they’re second in size only to tigers—and roars that can be heard from five miles away. An adult lion’s coat is yellow-gold, and juveniles have some light spots that disappear with age. Only male lions typically boast manes, the impressive fringe of long hair that encircles their heads. 

The Asiatic lion’s current range is restricted to the Gir National Park and environs in the Indian state of Gujarat. Historically, it inhabited much of Western Asia and the Middle East up to northern India. On the IUCN Red List, it is listed under its former scientific name Panthera leo persica as Endangered because of its small population size and area of occupancy.  The first scientific description of the Asiatic lion was published in 1826 by the Austrian zoologist Johann N. Meyer who named it Felis leo persicus.   Though it lived and was seen in Saudi Arabia,  Turkey, Iran, Mesopotamia, and from east of the Indus River to Bengal and Narmada River in Central India, in the last century it is more restricted to the Gir Forest National Park and surrounding areas.  This lion population has steadily increased since 2010.  The lion is one of five pantherine cats inhabiting India, along with the Bengal tiger (P. tigris tigris), Indian leopard (P. pardus fusca), snow leopard (P. uncia) and clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). 

Junagadh  is the headquarters of Junagadh district in the  state of Gujarat. Located at the foot of the Girnar hills, 355 kilometres (221 mi) southwest of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar (the state capital), it is the seventh largest city in the state.  Junagadh means ‘Old Fort’ – and is a fort city.  After a brief struggle between India and Pakistan, Junagadh voted to join India in a plebiscite held on 20 February 1948. It was a part of Saurashtra state and later Bombay state. In 1960, in consequence of the Maha Gujarat movement, it became part of the newly formed Gujarat state. 

Sakkarbaug Zoological Garden also known as Sakkarbaug Zoo or Junagadh Zoo is an 84-hectare (210-acre) zoo that opened in 1863 at Junagadh, Gujarat. The zoo provides purebred Asiatic lions for the Indian and the international endangered species captive breeding program for the critically endangered species.  


The not so happy news is the oldest lion of Gujarat’s Gir Forest, Dheer, died on Saturday. Dheer was 22 years old. He passed away in Sakkarbagh Zoo. Before Dheer, no other Lion in Gir Forest had lived more than 20 years. Generally, Asiatic Lions have a life span of 15 to 17 years. But, in Gir forest, some lions have survived for more than 18 years.  Neerav Makwana, RFO of Saqqarabagh Zoo, said that Dheer was living in Saqkarbaaz Zoo for the last 17 years. She was resuscitated from Gir Forest in 2004. From the age of 5, Saqkarbagh Zoo had been Dheer’s house. 

According to Neerav, Dheer was running ill for some time and had stopped taking food as well culminating into weight loss. She also added that the lion failed to walk as well due to severe weakness. The medical team of the forest department was constantly monitoring him.  But on Saturday, Dheer fell extremely sick, and later the oldest Asiatic Lion of Gir Forest passed away. 

Gir Forest is known for the Asiatic Lions. The entire forest area of the Gir National Park is dry and deciduous which provides the best habitat for Asiatic Lions. As per the new statics of 2015, the entire Saurashtra Region is inhabited by 523 Lions and more than 300 Leopards. The photos appearing are of a lion and lioness at Sakkarbagh zoo taken by me on 20.12.2o19  during our visit to Dwaraka, Somnath and Gir.


With regards – S. Sampathkumar



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