National Parks and Sanctuaries : Gir National Park & Wildlife Sanctuary

Formerly the hunting reserve of the Nawabs of Junagadh, Gir Forest is the largest compact tract of dry deciduous forest in Gujarat and the only abode of the Asiatic Lion in the world. Protection was first given in 1900, when lion numbers were down to a mere 12 individuals! By 1936, the number had increased to 250 animals and today there are a little over 300 individuals. Gir was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1965 and given National Park status ten years later.

Besides the Asiatic Lion, Gir supports a large population of Leopard, and other carnivores include Jungle Cat, Jackal, Striped Hyena, Common and Ruddy mongoose. The herbivores include Sambar, Chital, Nilgai, Chowsingha, Chinkara and Wild Boar.

Over 300 bird species have been recorded here. These include the Shaheen Falcon, Bonelli's Eagle, Great Horned Owl, Tawny eagle and Blackwinged Kite. Grey and Jungle Bush Quail, Grey Partridge, Nightjar, Black-headed Cuckoo Shrike, Gray Drongo, Pied Woodpecker, Black Ibis, and White-necked Stork are also found at Gir.

The Sanctuary is open from November through to May.

As with so many of India's best parks, Gir was once a princely hunting reserve, in this case of the Nawabs of Junagadh. Though reduced to less than a third of its former size over the last century or so, the Gir Forest is today the largest compact tract of dry deciduous forest in Saurashtra (Gujarat) and the only abode of the Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica) in the world. Although the Lions number a little over 300 individuals today their story represents one of the more successful conservation efforts of the past century.

By the turn of the 19th Century the once widespread Asiatic Lion had been reduced to a few tattered population groups across its range of which the Gir was one. By 1880, with an estimated 12 individuals, this population was at its lowest ebb. The Nawab of Junagadh, recognised the importance of saving the Lions and from 1900 imposed a ban on hunting them. It was touch and go but by 1920 the Lions had recovered to about 50 individuals and by 1936 the number had increased dramatically to 250 animals. By the mid 1940's the last Lions in Iraq/Iran had vanished and the Lions of Gir were the sole remaining representatives of the Asiatic subspecies. To the Nawab and his advisors must go the credit for their salvation. A story, perhaps apocryphal, demonstrates the resolve needed to accomplish this.

The all-powerful Viceroy of India made known his desire to 'bag' a Lion. Bound by the iron laws of hospitality (and political expediency), the Nawab was forced to accede but was loath to lose one of his precious Lions. Western India and Gujarat had a millennia long tradition of trade with Africa and it was to those shores that the Nawab turned for a solution. Secret arrangements were made and when the distinguished party arrived, the largest, most majestically maned Lion was presented to the viceregal guns. Honour was thus satisfied on both sides and goodwill maintained without the sacrifice of either state law or endangered Gir Lion.

In post-Independence India the Gir Forest came within the boundaries of the State of Gujarat which continued with the policies of the erstwhile Junagadh state. The forest was constituted a Wildlife Sanctuary on 18 September, 1965 expressly for the purpose of preserving the Lions. In 1975, an area of 150 was declared a National Park and in 1978 expanded to 259 In 1984 the surrounding forests were declared a Wildlife Sanctuary and this combined area today forms the Lion Reserve with the National Park as the core area.

A cattle-herding group known as the Maldharis (Mal-livestock and Dhari - guardian) has long inhabited the forests of Gir. For decades these people, living in their thorn-barricaded settlements called nes have shared the habitat with the Lions despite losing some livestock. Empirical evidence suggests that their re-settlement outside of the National Park boundary has resulted in the regeneration of the forest, improvement of prey densities and a consequent change in the Lion's diet. This now comprises a much higher percentage of wild prey than domestic cattle although, due to the increase in the Lion population this may not translate into a reduction of the actual quantity of livestock killed. However, many continue to live in the Sanctuary area and with the shortage of land their re-settlement seems unlikely in the near future. On the fringes of the forest are another curious group of people known as the Siddis. These, people are of pure African descent and, although they have adopted Gujarati dress, language and food, bear testimony to the close ties that have existed between Gujarat and the east coast of Africa.


The Gir National Park and Sanctuary lie in the south-west of the Saurashtra peninsula in the state of Gujarat. It is the last home of the Asiatic Lion and the only patch of extensive forest in the Saurashtra peninsula.

20° 40' to 21° 50' North

Longitude: 70° 50' to 71° 15' East

Gir National Park - 258.71
Gir Wildlife Sanctuary - 1153.4

This constitutes the Gir forest, which falls mainly within Junagadh district with a small portion in the Amreli district. Apart from the Protected Area (PA) there is a multiple use plantation on the periphery of the Gir which measures 470.6 sq. km. The terrain is hilly and the forests act as a sponge for the rain water which is released through 7 principal perennial rivers. It is no accident that this is the only area of the region with adequate groundwater and irrigation.

Altitude: The entire area of Gir consists of a series of moderately sloping low hills that are of volcanic origin with the altitude varying from 150 to 530 metres above mean sea level.

The temperatures vary from the peak in summer at 45°C, dropping below 10°C on cold winter nights.

The average rainfall is 1000 mm per year on the western part of the protected area and 650 mm in eastern Gir. The rainy season is from June to October .

The eastern part of the PA consist of non teak forests, where Dhavdo (Anogeissus latifolia) is the dominating species . Other trees commonly found in the area are Khair (Acacia catechu), Sadad (Terminalia crenulata), Timru (Diospyros melanoxylon), Babul (Acacia nilotica), Amla (Phyllanthus emblica), Moledi (Lannea coromandelica), Kadayo (Sterculia urens) and Bahedo (Terminalia bellerica), Semal (Bombax ceiba), Bor (Zizyphus mauritiana), Khakhar (Butea monosperma) and Asundro (Bauhinia racemosa).

Mixed deciduous type of forest, dominated by Teak (Tectona grandis) covers nearly 70% of the protected area. Most of the tree species mentioned earlier also occur here though Dhavdo (Anogeissus latifolia) is quite conspicuous by its absence.

Along the principal rivers and streams one finds moist riverine forest with species such as Jambun (Syzygium cumini), Karanj (Pongamia pinnata), Umro (Ficus racemosa), Vad (Ficus bengalensis), Kalam (Mitragyna parviflora), Charel (Holeptelia integrifolia), Sirus (Albizzia lebbeck) and Amli (Tamarindus indica).

The coastal plantation belt consists of exotic species such as Saru (Casuarina equisetifolia) and Gandobaval (P. Juliflora).


The Gir is the last stronghold of the Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica). Though in general habits and behaviour the Indian Lion differs little from the African, there is one significant difference which is perhaps the key to the survival of the small population presently living in the Gir Forest. This is the tolerance of man by the Lion.

During the several decades that Lion and man have lived together in the forests of the Gir there have been remarkably few wilful instances of aggression by the Lion. Although they avoid inhabited areas during the day they are remarkably fearless of man and will permit his near approach before moving off with dignity.

There is a large population of Leopard (Panthera pardus) in the Protected Area. Among the other carnivores are the Jungle cat (Felis chaus), the jackal (Canis aureus) and the Striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), fox (Vulpes bengalensis), common mongoose (Herpestes edwardsii), ruddy mongoose (Herpestes smithi) Indian porcupine (Hystrix indica) and Ratel (Mellivora capensis).

The Sloth bear is conspicuous by its absence in Gir.

The herbivores include Sambar (Cervus unicolor), Chital(Cervus axis), Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), Four horned antelope or Chowsingha (Tetraceros quadricornis), Chinkara (Gazella gazella) and the Wild Boar (Sus scrofa).

Around 300 species of birds have been recorded, some of them resident and some of them migratory. The main scavenger is the vulture, there are 6 species in Gir, including the Black or King Vulture . The birds of prey are Shaheen Falcon, Bonelli's Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Great Horned Owl, Spotted Owlet, Brown Fish owl, Tawny eagle, Shikra, Brahminy kite and the Blackwinged Kite.

Some other species found at Gir are Grey Quail, Jungle Bush Quail, Grey Partridge, Nightjar, Black-headed Cuckoo Shrike, Gray Drongo, Pied Woodpecker, Black Ibis, and White-necked Stork .

Many snake species have recorded such as the Python, Common ratsnake, Keelbacks, Common Indian Krait, Russell's viper, Saw-scaled viper and the Indian Cobra. The Gir is an excellent place for seeing Marsh or Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) in its rivers and in the lake of the Kamaleshwar dam. There is a crocodile rearing centre at Sasan. Other reptiles include Star tortoise, Monitor lizard, Fanthroated lizard, Calotes, Indian chameleon and Common skink.

Beat time to visit
The Protected Area is closed between June and October during the south west monsoon. Climatically, December to March is a good season, but April and May though very hot are by far the best months for wildlife viewing and photography. A 3-4 day stay to Gir optimises the chance of seeing a variety of wildlife including Lions.

Wildlife Viewing
For some reason the management of Gir seems reluctant to encourage tourism and has imposed a number of restrictions on timings - 2 hours in the morning and the same in the evening - and routes that can be quite frustrating for the tourist. Finding Lions isn't very easy since the habitat is pretty dense and one is restricted to the roads. However, sightings are reasonably frequent and there are also good chances of seeing Leopards. The management has also set up an Interpretation Zone at a place called Devalia where tourists are taken into a fenced area comprising 412 Ha in Forest Dept. buses which race around looking for the 4 Lions that are here. Not a great experience. One gets the feeling that they would prefer to restrict the tourism to this. A morning visit to Kamleshwar Dam is recommended.

Other points of interest
Within the Protected Area there are some old temples like Kankai Mata and Tulsishyam, a place of pilgrimage with hot springs. The modern temple of Somnath constructed recently on the site of the ancient temple is 45 kms away. The thorn-fenced settlements of the Maldharis called nes, are worth visiting. They are extremely hospitable by nature and their lives have changed little over the years and their folklore and traditions are a unique record of coexistence of human beings with Lions.

How to get there By road
State transport buses make the two hour trip between Junagadh and Veraval via Sasan Gir, at least four times a day.
A number of state highways connect to Gir:
From Junagadh - Junagadh - Medharda - Talala
Junagadh - Visavadar

From Veraval - Veraval - Talala - Sasan
From Amreli - Amreli - Dhari - Kodinar
From Una - Una - Tulsishyam - Dhari Una - Jamwala

Nearest railhead
Sasan Gir, 50 km from Junagadh and 40 km from Veraval via Talala. Slow steam trains run to Veraval twice daily, and to Delwada and Junagadh once a day.

Nearest airport
Keshod (38km) and Rajkot both of which are connected to Mumbai by regular services.

The best place to stay is the Taj Lodge situated attractively on the banks of the Hiran River. Easily the best place to stay.

The Sasan Gir Rest House adequate accommodation. For further information and reservations with the Forest Department contact:

The Sanctuary Superintendent,
Gir Lion Sanctuary,
Sasan Gir 362 135,
Junagadh District,
Gujarat Ph : +91 2877 85541

Conservator of Forests,
Sardar Baug,
Gujarat-362 001
Ph : +91 285 31678 Fax: +91 285 632 900


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