Location: Gir, 42-kms From Junagadh, Gujarat.
Best time to visit: December- April
Nearest Town: Junagadh (42-kms)
Gir is the only home in India of the Lion of which there are nearly 300 in the park. The Gir national park lies in the Gujarat peninsula in SW India. The terrain is rugged with low hills and the vegetation is mixed deciduous, with stands of Teak, Acacia, Jamun, Tendu and Dhak trees, interspersed with large patches of grasslands. On the hills of the trees are sparse and stunted. Within the sanctuary, there are numerous human settlements of cattle herders called Maldharis with an estimated 20,000 head of livestock (which, incidentally, forms a significant part of the Lion’s diet). There are also places of Hindu worship and pilgrimage and sulphur springs at Tulsi Shyam and Kankai Mata. At the edge of the park there are good populations of Indian Gazelle, protected by the religious sentiment of the local people. Birds in the park include the Paradise Flycatcher, Bonelli’s Eagle and Painted Sandgrouse. Three unusual reserves, the Nalsarover Lake and Sanctuary, where large numbers of water-birds can be seen; the bare saline flats of the Rann of Kutch, incredibly the home of the Indian wild ass and the spectacular Flamingo island where nesting colonies of flamingoes are to be seen, make Gujarat an exciting place for wildlife enthusiasts. Asiatic lion It is the only remaining habitat of the Asiatic lion, which has been confined to this forest, since 1884 ( about 239 lions were reported in 1985 ).The Asiatic lion is slightly smaller than its African cousin, nevertheless, a large male lion of the Gir is quite a sight to behold. The best way to observe the big cats is, of course, in their natural surroundings, at dawn and dusk, when they are on the prowl. The Forest Department does arrange lion shows every Sunday, where the spectators can watch prides of lions on the hunt. There are guided trips available, to watch these magnificent animals from a very close range.
Gir Sanctuary is the last and only home of the critically endangered Asiatic Lion. These lions are a smaller more compact version of their African version, and are best viewed at dawn or dusk when they are on the move. The major difference between the two is that the African Lion appears larger than the Indian Lion because of its large and luxuriant mane.
Leopard is considered to be one of the most beautiful and graceful animals in the jungle, also the most dangerous one. Popularly known as the Prince of Cats, this animal is the most adaptable from the family of predators, one the reason why it occupies a much larger spread of Gujarat forest cover, and in Gir National Park it has been found in all the varied habitats and vegetation types. The approximate population of 210 Leopards resides within the sanctuary area.
Not leaving the water predators behind, Mash crocodiles are often seen along the Kamleshwar Dam Site. Another major attraction among the reptile population of Gir National Park are the numerous non-venomous Snakes such as the Indian Rock Python along with the four venomous varieties, which are Indian Cobra, Common Krait, Saw Scaled Viper, Russell's Viper.
Among the lesser-known wildlife of Gir National Park include the most common animal that can be sighted in the sanctuary is the Chital or Spotted Deer. Others main wild attractions are Nilgai, Chinkara, Sambhar, Black Bucks, the four horned Antelope, Wild Boar, Indian Flying Foe, Grey Musk Shrew, Indian Hare, Pale Hedgehog, Small Indian Mangoose, Small Indian Civet, Indian Pangolin, Indian Porcupine, Ratel, Indian Fox, and Jackal. The three smaller wildcats - the Jungle Cat, Desert Cat and the Rusty Spotted Cat, also inhabit Gir forest, which shows that the forest is not just meant for the protection of Lions, but the whole of the cat family.
Rich and Varied Bird life
The forest is also rich in bird life, and an estimated of 300 species are found inhabiting Gir National Park over the years. Many wildlife experts say that if Gir has not been a Lion sanctuary, it could have easily passed off as a protected area for the incredible diversity of birds that it harbours. The avifauna in here occupies the forest floors, small plants and shrubs and even the canopy of the trees. The Paradise Flycatcher, Black Headed Cuckoo Shrike, Pied Woodpecker, Bonelli's Eagle, Creset Serpant Eagle, Painted Sandgrouse, Bush Quail and Grey Patridge are among the varieties that are commonly found over here.
Vegetation in Gir can be looked at in four ways. The first is the Teak forest and nearly half of the protected area has this kind of a habitat. The main tree species that occupy this habitat are Khair, Sadad, Timru, Babul, Amla, Moledi, Dhavdo, Kadayo and Bahedo. The non-Teak forests, which comprise the remaining forest consists of tree species like the Khair, Dhavdo, Sadad, Timru, Amla, Moledi, Kadayo, Salai, Simal, Khakhro, Ber and Asundro. A distinct belt of vegetation is found along the main rivers and streams. Species like the Jambu, Karanj, Umro, Vad, Kalam, Charal, Sirus and Amli are found here. These trees are mostly broad leaved and evergreen, giving the area a cool shade and the moisture content. Finally, Prosopis and Casuarina have been planted in the coastal border as part of the aforestation plan.
From the three common seasons of summer, winter and monsoon, summer takes the longest stretch, in which the average minimum and maximum temperature ranges between 10ºC to nearly 45ºC. The hottest months recorded in Gir are April and May. The rains bring some relief from the heat during the monsoons period of, starting from middle of June and September. The maximum recorded during this period in the area is around 1,866 mm and the minimum recorded being 199mm. Because of less rainfall water always remains a critical factor in the well being of the forest. At times the waterholes are required to be replenished through water tankers from outside and the park staff maintains around 350 of such waterholes.