Scientific name: Panthera leo persicus
Diet: Asiatic lions feed on wild pigs, cattle, antelope and deer in the wild. At the Zoo they are fed between three and four kilos of meat six days out of seven as this reflects their natural behaviour in the wild where they would not successfully catch prey every day.
Rabbit, chicken and heart are also given about once a week.
Food & feeding: Carnivore
Habitats: Tropical dry forest, tropical grassland, desert and semi-desert.
Conservation status: Endangered
Relatives: African lion, tiger, leopard
Description: Asiatic lions have a shaggier coat than their African counterparts, and both sexes have a distinctive fold of skin that runs along the belly. They have a longer tassel of hair on the end of the tail and longer tufts of hair on the elbows. Males are 1.7-2.5 m long and weigh 150-250 kgs while females are 1.4-1.75m in length and weigh in at 120-182 kgs. Like all cats they are equipped with powerful, retractable claws and long sharp canine teeth that are used to pull their prey to the ground.
Lifestyle: Like African lions, hunting is a cooperative affair but adult males rarely participate. If vegetation is sparse, hunting usually takes place at night, but where it is thick, it may also take place during the day. The lions use stealth to approach their prey and then charge and either grab or knock it down before it outruns them. Only one in about four charges end successfully. Lions are inactive for most of the day, spending up to 20 hours per day resting or sleeping.
Family & friends: Like their African cousins, Asian lions are highly social animals, living in units called prides. However, the Asiatic pride is much smaller, with an average of only two females compared to the African pride, which has an average of four to six. The males are also less social and only associate with the pride when mating or on a large kill. It has been suggested that this may be because of the smaller prey available in the Gir Forest. Small prey mean less animals are needed to hunt them down and there would be less meat to share between more lions if the prides were larger.
Keeping in touch: As you can often hear when walking by Bristol Zoo Gardens in the late evening, Asiatic lions often communicate by roaring late in the day and into the night.
Growing up: Females reach sexual maturity at two to four years of age. They normally have two to four cubs after a gestation period of 100-119 days. The cubs start eating meat at about three months of age while continuing to suckle for up to six months. They spend nine months perfecting their hunting techniques, become independent aged one year and reach maturity at three to four years. Cub mortality is high, up to 80% may die before two years of age. They can live for about 17 years in the wild and up to 24 in captivity.
Although fearsome predators, Asiatic lions in the past have rarely attacked humans but in recent years attacks on humans have been on the increase. The reason seems to be that restricting the entry of cattle that previously roamed the park has left the lions lacking a key food source and hungry lions sometimes look to humans, whose numbers in the area have increased dramatically, for their next meal.
Conservation news: The Asiatic lion was once found in Eastern Europe, Turkey, the Middle East and most of India. It became extinct in Europe around 100 A.D. and in Palestine around the time of The Crusades. It remained widespread until the time of the advent of firearms in the mid 1800s, which led to widespread extinction through hunting as a sport. In 1900, the Nawab of Junagadh, the local ruler, declared the few remaining lions of the Gir Forest in India protected animals. The Nawab told everyone that there were only 20 remaining to prevent people from going to the Gir to hunt them. The population was estimated to be around 100 between 1968 and 1979 but is now thought to be more than double this. However, the forest is now approaching the limit of the number of lions that it can support and other safe havens for Asiatic lions in India are sorely needed. One suggested location is the Barda Hills near Porbandar. The Gir Forest is a dry deciduous forest in Gujarat, western India. Its wildlife sanctuary is 545 square miles with only the central 100 square miles completely protected as a National Park. About 7,500 Maldhari people and their 14,000 cattle live in the Forest Sanctuary, with a further 160,000 people and 100,000 cattle living within six miles of the Sanctuary. As there are so few Asiatic lions, it is necessary to manage the captive and wild populations if the species is to recover. It is essential to ensure that all the lions are pure bred and that pairs are not closely related to one another. Bristol Zoo Gardens is actively involved in this programme.