The Asian Lion Conservation Program
Most people think of Africa when they think of lions. And, indeed, nearly all wild lions live in sub-Saharan Africa. However there is another sub-species of lion called the Asian lion (sometimes also called the Indian lion or Asiatic lion). This other sub-species of lion lives as a single isolated population in India's Gujurat State, in a sanctuary called the Gir Forest (two small sub-populations have also formed outside the boundaries of the Gir Forest numbering approximately 100 individuals: the Girnar coastal group and the Bali Tana group).
Asiatic lions are genetically distinct from the lions of sub-Saharan Africa, although the difference is not large, being smaller than the genetic distance between human racial groups. The Asian lion generally has a smaller mane than the African lion however the mane of the Asian lion extends all the way down to their distinctive belly fold. Asian lions also have a larger tail tuft. Overall, however, they tend to be smaller in size than the African lion.
The range of the Asian lion in North Africa and South-West Asia formerly stretched across the coastal forests of northern Africa and from northern Greece across the Middle East and south-west Asia to eastern India. These are the lions that inhabited the Land of Israel in Biblical times and inspired the lion symbol associated with Judah and Jerusalem. Now, only around 350 of these magnificent animals survive in the wild in India. The wild population is considered to be stable because it has reached its expansion limits. An additional 200 Asian lions live in zoos including in the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. Our lions form part of the European Endangered Species breeding program which is administered under the auspices of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria.
Threats to the Asian lion in the wild include an increase in poaching incidents over recent years, drowning incidents where lions have fallen into wells, and vulnerability to extinction from unpredictable events (because this sub-species exists as a single sub-population) such as an epidemic or forest fire. For this reason, establishment of at least one other wild population is advisable for population safety, for maximizing genetic diversity, and in terms of ecology (re-establishing the lion as a component of the fauna in its former range). However, there are problems in attempting this including the need for human resettlement and thus hostility toward lion conservation, poaching, and conflict with human settlements which often results in poisonings.