India has both lions and tigers, but in the wild, lions and tigers don't see each other
Lions and tigers can't see each other in the wild in India
Perhaps due to the "mysterious voice" incident in Guizhou, people have recently become more enthusiastic about wildlife and have asked me more questions. We all know that lions and tigers are two creatures at the top of the food chain, of equal size and strength, with a convergence of food habits, so won't they fight in the same habitat? Interesting question, but I'd say: not to worry too much!
India indeed has both lions and tigers, but in the wild, they are no longer found in the same area, i.e. they don't meet anymore.
India is a "tiger country", with only one subspecies of tiger, the Bengal tiger, but the largest population in the world, accounting for around 80% of the world's wild tigers, with 2,967 wild Bengal tigers in India at the end of 2018. The lions that live in Asia are known as "Asiatic lions", but of course, they are currently only found in the wild in India and are invisible elsewhere.
Where are the tigers in India?
The people of India have a strong affection for tigers, which is reflected in many ways, such as the death of the "Queen of Tigers", Machilie, who was given a huge funeral, with hundreds of people coming to pay their respects. "The tiger is well protected in India, as was the case with the legendary King of the Tigers, Chair, for whom a monument was erected by the keeper of the Bandarga National Park after his death. Although the Asian lion is much rarer than the Bengal tiger in terms of its small numbers and distribution only in India, the tiger is more valued in India in terms of the amount of money allocated to its conservation each year and the attention it receives from the public.
Tigers are widespread in India, with more than half of the country's 28 states, six union territories, and one national capital territory home to tigers. According to 2018 figures, the state with the highest number of wild tigers is Madhya Pradesh, with 526, followed by Karnataka, with just two fewer than Madhya Pradesh.
As of last year, there were around 114 large and small national parks in India, of which as many as 50 had tigers in them, a feat that no other country can hope to match.
It is also worth noting that most of India's reserves are connected by natural ecological corridors, allowing species to spread, migrate, and so on, and for populations to interact with each other, which is very beneficial for the sustainability of the species.
List of tiger reserves in India
In 2013, a male Bengal tiger in India completed a world record of 650 kilometers of 'travel', which was broken in December last year when a male Bengal tiger, also from India, traveled over 2,000 kilometers from the Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra It started in Tipishwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra and traveled through seven districts of the state, passing through several sanctuaries before reaching the Danyanangan Wildlife Sanctuary.
The message behind this 'feat' is that in modern society, it is incredible that a tiger has traveled such a long distance, across multiple districts, without coming into conflict with humans and only eating some cattle, which is a testament to the role of ecological corridors.
Where are the lions in India?
Compared to tigers, which are found in half of India, the Asiatic lion is a "remote" species, found only in the Gill Forest National Park in India and Gujarat.
The number of Asiatic lions in India is now close to 700, almost reaching the saturation level of the Gir Forest National Park, and as all Asiatic lions are descendants of the original 13 lions, inbreeding is severe and genetic diversity is low, and now all individuals live in the same area, which is extremely detrimental to conservation efforts.
The reason for this is simple: the number of individuals has increased, but there is not much genetic diversity, so there is a greater chance of a 'founder effect', which is simply an extreme genetic drift where the genetic frequency of a few individuals determines the genetic frequency of the offspring. This is an extreme genetic drift effect where the gene frequencies of a few individuals determine the gene frequencies of future generations. This effect can be very damaging, making the lions less able to resist changes in their environment and, if certain factors change, it is likely that the entire species will disappear.
Although we cannot change the fact that these Asiatic lions are all descendants of the original 13, we can reduce the risk of extinction as much as possible by placing them in separate sanctuaries - in other words, "don't put all your eggs in one basket".
The idea of transferring some of the Asiatic lions to Madhya Pradesh was proposed and efforts were made to welcome the lions to Madhya Pradesh, but unfortunately, perhaps for economic reasons, Gujarat was reluctant to transfer the lions elsewhere, as they are the pride of Gujarat, the only place where Asiatic lions live, a good tourist publicity stunt, etc.
The historical Asian lion did not live only in the Gir Forest, but was widespread throughout southern Europe, south-western Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and beyond, starting more than 20,000 years ago.
The modern lion originated in Africa and did not move out of Africa until more than 20,000 years ago. As the planet's mega-carnivores were already extinct, lions did not have many rivals of comparable strength, and those that 'set out' via North Africa soon spread across most of southern Europe, before moving east as far as India.
Due to the long geographical isolation, the lions that left Africa soon formed a new subspecies that we call the Asiatic lion, which is generally smaller in size than the African lion, and the male has a thinner, shorter mane that in most cases does not cover his ears.
In ancient times Asiatic lions were common and lived in almost all of the savannah, and open areas throughout southwest Asia, from the south of the Narmada River, stretching to eastern Bengal. The inability of lions to live under forest ecosystems and their high dependence on water sources prevented them from moving further inland in Asia.
The reason for the mass disappearance of Asiatic lions can be attributed to human hunting frenzies. In the 1870s, Asiatic lions were still relatively abundant and could be seen in significant numbers in the upper parts of the Euphrates basin, but only nearly 30 years or so later, i.e. by the beginning of the 20th century, Asiatic lions were extinct in most parts of Turkey, Arabia and elsewhere.
How crazy were people about hunting lions? One British soldier alone killed nearly 300 Asiatic lions in 1857, but of course, it was not only the colonists who hunted Asiatic lions, the indigenous people of India also hunted lions regularly.
At the time, killing a lion was something to be proud of and was considered a symbol of 'courage' and 'status', but as a result of uncontrolled hunting, the Asiatic lion population declined so much that by 1907 there were only 13 individuals left of the species. By 1907, only 13 individuals remained, but it was in this year that a total ban on hunting Asiatic lions was declared.
Another year later, in 1908, all 13 remaining Asiatic lions were captured in India and bred in captivity, which has now proved effective in saving a species.
In 1965, India declared the Gir Forest a wildlife sanctuary, the heart of which is the Gir Forest National Park, the central and only place where Asiatic lions live, and they have been breeding in full force in the Gir Forest ever since. In fact, in the beginning, the Asiatic lion did not have a very good time, as the regulations were not yet perfect in all areas.
Until 1972, for example, the Gill Forest Reserve was not completely closed to human activity, and the indigenous Malhari people lived there at the time, leading a nomadic lifestyle that greatly impacted the wildlife.
As people raise large numbers of cattle, sheep, and other livestock on a free-range basis, they compete with wild herbivores, thereby inhibiting their development and keeping their populations growing slowly or even negatively.
Another direct impact of livestock is on the food composition of the Asiatic lion, which accounts for 75% of its diet due to the low level of wild ungulates and the high number of livestock. As a direct consequence of this, there were "human-lion conflicts", resulting in the retaliatory killing of Asiatic lions, which only improved after 1972, when India declared a ban on all human activities in the Gir Forest Reserve.
The situation inside the reserve soon changed after the Malharis moved out, and the number of wild boar, gazelles, deer, and other hoofed animals in the reserve increased dramatically, by 600% compared to the time before humans left.
With the removal of humans and livestock on the one hand, and the increase in the number of wild ungulates on the other, the diet of the Asiatic lion has changed dramatically, with livestock dropping from 75% to 25%, and the rate of unnatural mortality has also dropped from the previous rate, so no more livestock, no more human retaliation!
Because the Gill Forest National Park covers a vast area of 140,000 hectares and has a large number of large ungulates in the wild, the Asiatic lions were able to live in peace after the withdrawal of humans and soon developed, with more than 200 individuals by the time the first census was taken in 1936. The frequency of a full census of Asiatic lions is once every five years, and as the 6th, 8th and 11th censuses were carried back a year, the May 2015 census showed 532 individuals. 2020 is the new year for updated data, and the Indian side has given figures showing a 28% increase over the last census, meaning that the total number of Asiatic lions in India as of today is 674.
The distribution of lions and tigers in India looks very interesting, as tigers live inside the country's 50 national parks and reserves, large and small, but just not in the Gir Forest, and Asiatic lions live only in the Gir Forest, so in terms of geographical distribution, Asiatic lions and Bengal tigers do not live together, and even in Gujarat, where Asiatic lions are located, until last year, there was not a single wild tiger.
In February 2019, the forest department of Gujarat confirmed the presence of a wild tiger in the Masi Sagar district, which had come from another reserve, possibly Maharashtra, Rajasthan, or Madhya Pradesh, but there were earlier reports of a tiger "missing" from a forest reserve near Ujjain. The tiger was reported to be "missing" from a forest reserve near Ujjain.
Although the 'traveling tiger' entered Gujarat, it did not head straight for the Gill Forest, home to the Asiatic lion, the closest it came to the Asiatic lion was in the Lunawad-Santrapur forest, but this is still about 500 km away from the Gill Forest Reserve.
The last time there were tigers in Gujarat was before 1992 when, according to the state forest department, tigers were found in the Dangis district in 1989 and experts estimated the population to be around 13, but according to the 1992 tiger census report, tigers were extinct in the state. So neither before 1992 nor has a tiger been seen inside the forests of Gir since 2019.
The historical distribution of lions and tigers in the same area
Since lions and tigers are no longer homogeneous in modern times and cannot be seen together in their natural state, did lions and tigers exist homogeneously in history? The answer is yes.
We have talked about how African lions entered Asia through southern Europe, and I will now talk about how tigers in East Asia spread to other parts of Asia. From the direction of their spread, the timing of their spread, and their final distribution, we can roughly identify the areas of overlap between the distribution of tigers and lions, and the possibility of lions and tigers meeting in these areas.
There are various theories about the origin of the tiger, but one of the more plausible ones is that it originated in East Asia three million years ago. After the emergence of the modern tiger, it expanded as quickly as the lion, reaching saturation in East Asia and then spreading rapidly to other parts of Asia.
The first was along the forest and river systems, entering western Asia through the north-west of the country, reaching as far as the eastern part of the Asia Minor peninsula and failing to reach Europe; the second was along the south and south-east into the Indian subcontinent and around south-east Asia, where the long geographical isolation also led to the formation of nine different subspecies of tigers.
The tiger's entry into the Indian subcontinent occurred during the late Last Ice Age. Judging from the direction and timing of its dispersal with the lion, there was a large overlap between the two habitats in Central Asia, Southwest Asia, and around the Indian subcontinent, indicating that lions and tigers were distributed in a large number of homogeneous areas during the early Holocene.
Many people wonder if lions and tigers fought each other often, given their historical sympatry. My answer to this is no, at least not often enough for them to have fought each other.
The reason for this is simple: tigers are forest animals and lions are grassland animals, and they have different environmental requirements.
Tigers are solitary animals, relying on ambush to catch their prey, so they cannot survive in open areas, whereas lions are pack animals, even Asian lions, although their pride is not as large as African lions, they always live in groups, and this mode of life does not work to their advantage in dense forests, because lions hunt in groups and catch their prey by chasing them, and the dense vegetation of the forest does not allow them to show this advantage. The dense vegetation of the forest does not allow for this advantage.
There is another point, of course, and that is that lions have a huge diet, which inevitably requires a certain abundance of large prey, and the forest ecosystem is not capable of carrying such large herds, so lions do not venture into the dense forest, and even in the forest, they choose to live and move in the open areas of the forest, near water sources.
In general, at the beginning of the Holocene, when lions and tigers existed in the same area, the chances of them meeting each other were not very high, not to mention that nowadays lions and tigers do not live in the same area anymore.