The last refuge of the severely endangered Asiatic lion is located in Gujarat. Sasangir, popularly known as Gir National Park, is the last hope of this majestic creature. Once upon a time, the lions used to roam all over north India. By the turn of the 20th century, their numbers had come down to alarming figures. The situation is critical as these are the only lions left in the world apart from the African lions. The Sasangir National Park, one of the most famous tourist places in Gujarat, is an effort by the state and central governments to save this magnificent species of big cats.
The Gir National Park is spread over an area of 1412 square kms in the Junagarh district of Gujarat in western India. The history of the National Park goes back to the turn of the 20th century. There was a terrible famine that almost wiped out the lion population in the first decade of the century. Deprived of prey, the lion population came down heavily, until protection was offered by the Nawab of Junagarh. Lion hunting was completely banned in 1950s. Lion census was carried out, and appropriate steps taken for their conservation.
The park has a core area of 259 square kms. Besides the lions, Sasangir has a healthy population of other carnivores like panthers, wild cat, jackal, and hyena. The herbivores of the forest include sambar, chital, chinkara, nilgai, chowsingha (four horned antelope), and wild boar. Langurs and monkeys are also found and form the prey base for the big cats. Marsh crocodiles are also the inhabitants of Gir National Park, and can be seen near the rivers or at the lake of kamaleshwar dam. There is a crocodile breeding farm at Sasan, the headquarters of the park. Wildlife in Gujarat comprises a fascinating variety of birds, and most of them can be spotted at Sasangir. The bird population of the park includes species like gray drongo, paradise flycatcher, pied woodpecker, crested swift, Indian roller, fish owl, black vulture, falcon, crested serpent eagle, Bonelli's eagle, sand grouse, quails, grey partridges, and white necked stork.
The park offers exciting safaris by jeep. The chief trails are from sasan to Baval chowk, Kankai, Tulsishyam, Chodavadi, and Kamaleshwar dam. Guides will accompany you on these trips and help you see the hidden treasures of Sasangir. Safaris are best conducted at sunrise or sunset, as the animals are most likely to be seen at these times.
A sizeable population of humans along with their cattle lives within the forest. This is a problem for the authorities, but tourists can get an interesting insight into the lives of these tribal people.
Tourists should visit the Sasangir National Park between December and March. The park remains closed from June to October. Summers are very hot, while winters are chilly.