A beautiful female Asiatic Lion.
The Asiatic Lion is so called because it used to be found all the way from Greece, in the Mediterranean, to India. Today, though, its habitat has shrunk to comprise only India’s Gir forests, found in the state of Gujarat. For this reason, it is often known as the Indian Lion today. There are only a few hundred of these impressive hunters alive at this time. Its scientific name is Panthera Leo Persica. It has long been included in various Indian myths and legends, and symbolises sovereignty and power. For this reason, it is often used in connection with royalty (in paintings, emblems, sculptures, badges, and so on).
The Asiatic Lion is only slightly smaller than the tiger and averages two metres in length (excluding its long tail) and about one metre at shoulder height. Males can vary between reddish-yellow and dark brown, while females are designed to blend in with savannah grasses and are, therefore, a sandy, light brown or beige colour. Their tales have a black tuft on the end. They differ from African Lions in several ways – they have a shorter mane, are generally fluffier and have much longer strands of hair on their elbows and the tips of their tails. Asiatic Lions live in prides of up to approximately 15 animals. This is unique behaviour amongst the big cats of the wild, as the rest tend to be very territorial, preferring to inhabit their area alone. These lion prides comprise approximately three males, a number of females and their offspring. The males are seen as dominant, despite the females’ doing all the work. She will hunt for food, bring her catch back to the pride and then wait with her young while the males enjoy the takings. Once they are replete, the females and cubs are able to enjoy the leftovers. Still, each lion and lioness within the pride is closely bonded to the others, enjoying cooperation and unity within the wild. The females are particularly loyal to their pride, while the males are evicted at three years of age. Because hunting and stalking prey is generally done as a group, a single lion does not fare well on his own in the wild. Therefore, he does well to find another pride to join as soon as possible.
These males then reach sexual maturity at about five years old (while females reach this stage at around four). After mating, she will incubate her cubs for between 100 and 120 days and she will give live birth to about three to five cubs.
The natural habitat of the Indian or Asiatic Lion includes both the forests and the open savannahs of the subcontinent. Even the wooded areas tend to be more open than densely vegetated jungles. Because they are strictly carnivorous, their choice of habitat depends very much on the food and water available in that area. They usually opt for antelopes, wild boars, zebras, giraffes and buffalos. They will also not miss the opportunity if they encounter a young hippopotamus, rhinoceros or elephant.
The very limited number of Indian Lions still in existence today is threatened by the loss of their habitat. As India continues to grow and develop, their natural home is being compromised by industrial and residential expansion. In times past, when their numbers were plentiful, they were hunted extensively for sport. They also suffered from a decrease in prey as humans occupied their territory and either consumed the prey themselves or forced the migrations thereof.
Apart from the royal implications of this lion, it has also featured within the art and traditions of many Indian cultures. Its majestic presence is both humbling and intriguing, emitting an undeniable sense of dignity and splendour.