Within the guarded confines of this dry forest in Gujarat, the lions have been rescued from near-extinction. A century ago, fewer than 50 remained. Today more than 400 fill the park and sometimes wander into surrounding villages and farmland.
But the lions' precarious return is in jeopardy. Experts warn their growing numbers could be their undoing. Crowded together, they are more vulnerable to disease and natural disaster. There is little new territory for young males to claim, increasing chances for inbreeding, territorial conflict or males killing the young.
Conservationists agree these lions need a second home fast, and far from Gir. Government-backed experts in the 1990s settled on a rugged and hilly sanctuary called Kuno, where lions historically roamed with tigers in the neighboring state of Madhya Pradesh. Millions were spent preparing the park. But Gujarat rejected the plan. And no lions were sent.
Text and Images: AP
Image: In this Saturday, March 24, 2012 photo, a lion rests at the Gir Sanctuary in Gujarat.