Gir National Park

Gir, located near Junagadh, Gujarat, spans more than 1,400 sq km. is home of nearly 300 Lions. The terrain is rugged with low hills and the vegetation is mixed deciduous, with stands of Teak, Acacia, Jamun, Tendu and Dhak trees, interspersed with large patches of grasslands. On the hills of the trees are sparse and stunted. Within the sanctuary, there are numerous human settlements of cattle herders called Maldharis with an estimated 20,000 head of livestock which form a significant part of the Lionís diet. There are also places of Hindu worship and pilgrimage and sulphur springs at Tulsi Shyam and Kankai Mata. At the edge of the park there are good populations of Indian Gazelle, protected by the religious sentiment of the local people.

Gir is the last and only home of the critically endangered Asiatic Lion which are a smaller more compact version of their African version, and are best viewed at dawn or dusk when they are on the move.

The Leopard is considered to be one of the most beautiful and graceful animals in the jungle, also the most dangerous one. Popularly known as the Prince of Cats, this animal is the most adaptable from the family of predators, one the reason why it occupies a much larger spread of Gujarat forest cover, and in Gir it has been found in all the varied habitats and vegetation types. The approximate population of 210 Leopards resides within the sanctuary area.

Not leaving the water predators behind, Mash crocodiles are often seen along the Kamleshwar Dam Site. Another major attraction among the reptile population of Gir are the numerous non-venomous Snakes such as the Indian Rock Python along with the four venomous varieties, which are Indian Cobra, Common Krait, Saw Scaled Viper, Russell's Viper.

Among the lesser-known wildlife of Gir include the most common animal that can be sighted in the sanctuary is the Chital or Spotted Deer. Others main wild attractions are Nilgai, Chinkara, Sambhar, Black Bucks, the four horned Antelope, Wild Boar, Indian Flying Foe, Grey Musk Shrew, Indian Hare, Pale Hedgehog, Small Indian Mongoose, Small Indian Civet, Indian Pangolin, Indian Porcupine, Ratel, Indian Fox, and Jackal. The three smaller wildcats - the Jungle Cat, Desert Cat and the Rusty Spotted Cat, also inhabit Gir forest, which shows that the forest is not just meant for the protection of Lions, but the whole of the cat family.

This area is also rich in bird life, and an estimated of 300 species are found inhabiting Gir and the Nalsarover Lake and Sanctuary. Many wildlife experts say that if Gir had not been a Lion sanctuary, it could have easily passed off as a protected area for the incredible diversity of birds that it harbours. The avifauna in here occupies the forest floors, small plants and shrubs and even the canopy of the trees. The Paradise Flycatcher, Black Headed Cuckoo Shrike, Pied Woodpecker, Bonelli's Eagle, Creset Serpant Eagle, Painted Sandgrouse, Bush Quail and Grey Partridge are among the varieties that are commonly found here. Also the bare saline flats of the Rann of Kutch, home of the Indian wild ass and the spectacular Flamingo island where nesting colonies of flamingoes are seen.

There are four distinct vegetation belts in Gir. The first is the Teak forest and nearly half of the protected area has this type of habitat. The main tree species that occupy this habitat are Khair, Sadad, Timru, Babul, Amla, Moledi, Dhavdo, Kadayo and Bahedo. Non-Teak forests, which comprise the remaining forest consists of tree species like the Khair, Dhavdo, Sadad, Timru, Amla, Moledi, Kadayo, Salai, Simal, Khakhro, Ber and Asundro. A distinct belt of vegetation is found along the main rivers and streams. Species like the Jambu, Karanj, Umro, Vad, Kalam, Charal, Sirus and Amli are found here. These trees are mostly broad leaved and evergreen, giving the area a cool shade and the moisture content. Finally, Prosopis and Casuarina have been planted in the coastal border as part of the forestation plan.

Mid-October to Mid-June is the best time to visit Gir, and the best recommended time is December-April.