Notably, the lions' habitat area has increased to 22,000 square kilometres, which has almost doubled in five years, Gir Sanctuary Superintendent Sandeep Kumar said. As per the census, 268 lions were sighted in Junagadh, 44 lions were counted in the Gir-Somnath district, while in Amreli, 174 lions were sighted and in Bhavnagar, 37 lions were found. "Conservation of lions is a glorious success story. More than 2 lakh lions were found in Africa, whose population has now decreased to less than 30,000. However, in Gir, the number of lions has shown an increase after every census," Kumar said.
The latest census exercise was carried out between May 1 and May 5. "During this census, a method of direct sighting or direct contact was used to count lions. The earlier system of indirect evidence like pugmarks or scat was not used this time," Kumar said, giving details of the census which is conducted by the Forest Department every five years.
Asiatic lions are an endangered species which were once found in Syria, Iran, the sub-continent and even in Central Asia. However, they are now found only in their last abode, the Gir sanctuary and its surrounding areas.
"A Global Positioning System was used in the lion census. As per the direct contact method, after a lion was spotted, it was photographed. Instead of merely noting its location, it was tagged using the more technical geo-reference system," he said.
"Generally, lions live in groups called prides. The area of a pride is also specified. So there is little possibility of duplication while counting. We also differentiated them on the basis of marks on their faces and the tuft of their tails," Kumar said. The census was conducted by 2,500 people including 600 units of enumerators, wildlife experts, government officials, trackers and non-governmental organisations.
Enumerators recorded unique identification marks like scars on faces, their colour, shape of ears and tufts of hair on tails, he said. The first lion census was carried out in 1936 by the erstwhile princely state of Junagadh when the lion population was around 287, after which, their count decreased.
During the 1975 census, which was the first one conducted by the Gujarat state forest department, their number stood at 177. The 1990 census counted 234 lions and in 2001 their number increased to 327, he said.