The GIR National Park & Sanctuary (GNP) in the State of Gujarat, in India, is known as the last home of the Asiatic Lion which once roamed from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent. According to information available, today the number stands around 400 in the GIR forest, covering an area of 1,420 square km of which 260 square km cover the National Park, 1,100 square km for the Sanctuary and the balance for the buffer zone.
During the past ten years of my Safaris to India, I mainly focused on RNP for its Tigers, especially the Machali family. My first Indian safari for 2012 was in March from the 12th to 26th, spending 4 nights at GNP and 8 nights at RNP. It was also my first visit to GNP.
GNP is located a two hour drive from the closest airport. We arrived at the Safari Lodge for lunch, which was located bordering the GNP. There are three game drives of 2.5 hours duration daily to the park, in the morning starting at 7 am and 9.30 am and at 3 pm in the afternoon. The number of vehicles entering the park is limited, and seven routes have been marked in order to avoid congestion inside the park. The vehicles cannot change course from the allocated route given to them by the park authorities. The vehicles deployed by the park are all Maruti open hood petrol jeeps.
Summer months starting from March are hot. In the afternoon, the temperature rises over 35 deg C, but early mornings are cooler. Sightings are better in summer compared to the winter period.
I planned eight trips, one at 7am and, the other in the afternoon at 3pm, for four days. My first picture inside the park was of a Cattle Egret on a Buffalo moving towards us. According to the Naturalist, the GNP lion prides are relatively small compared to African lions and they rarely hunt buffalo. On our first game drive in the late afternoon, we sighted the first Asian lions, two males resting on the ground close to the road. My first impression was that compared to the African male lions, the Asians do not look dangerous and, in size smaller. According to available information the Asiatic lion in general, is smaller due to its shorter limbs and a stockier body, especially the male, compared to the African cousin. Also the Asian species has a relatively short, sparse mane, with the result that its ears are visible compared to that of the male of the African counterpart. The longitudinal fold of skin that runs along the belly was noticeable when compared to that of the African males, which lack this character.
During our trips to the park, we had regular sighting of lions, including prides numbering 9 and 6 cats. The grand finale was sighting a pride of lions with a buffalo kill. I noticed that when the male was feeding on the carcass, others kept aside, similar to their African cousins. While taking pictures of the male lion with the buffalo head it reminded me of my first picture at GNP of the buffalo with the egret.
During our Stay at GNP, we also had sightings of many birds, not seen before, including the White Eyed Buzzard. Although there were estimated 300 leopards in the GIR Forest, we had no leopard sightings during our eight safaris to the park.