Spread over 1412 sq. km. in a hilly, semi arid region, Gir is a dry deciduous forest. With the Asiatic lion population barely crossing 400, Gir has become their final refuge. The moment you step inSasan-Gir, you feel like time travelling to a completely different era – an era in which humans and beasts co-existed; when there was harmony and balance between the two. Within the Gir forest, there exists a synergy between the local Maldhari community and the beasts. These communities live deep within the forest and follow animal husbandry as their profession. A glimpse at their lifestyle is like reminiscence of a past; of a world before humanity spread far and wide. The community lives without fear in raw community homes called ‘Nes’.
Though the Asiatic lions were originally found in the entire South and South-East Asia, due to decreased habitats and increased hunting, they got restricted to this tiny patch of forest in Gujarat. While driving through the forest, the lions can be generally found basking under the sun in prides of one lion and two or three lionesses. They spend hours at a stretch at the same place. So mostly a visit to Gir ensures a chance of seeing a lion. The chances of spotting them increase at night when they come out to hunt. They spend most of their time near the natural or artificial water reservoirs in the forest. Unlike other wild cats, lions do not attack unless hungry.
Apart from being the only home to the lions, Gir also accommodates 37 species of mammals including the spotted deer, sambar (a large deer), nilgai (a bluish antelope), gazelle, leopard, wild boar, monkeys, over 300 species of birds; monitor lizards and crocodiles. Most of these animals are easily spotted while driving through the forest. Herds of spotted deer grazing just beside the road or baby gazelle crossing the road is a common sight.
Among them you may also find a solitary nilgai mulching while keeping an eye out for predators. A congress of monkeys can be seen jumping from one branch to another with tiny babies clinging to the undersides of their moms. The leopard is sighted rarely but just a glimpse of it walking through the forest is a memory for a lifetime.
Though not widely famous for its birds, Gir forest is actually a paradise for bird watchers. Most of the 300 species of birds can be seen year round. The birds species are diverse; ranging from common birds like the painted sandgrouse, the grey francolin, the quails, the Asian paradise flycatcher, the black-naped monarch, the white-browed fantail, the grey-headed flycatcher, the Asian brown flycatcher, the verditer flycatcher, the tickell’s blue flycatcher, the greenish warbler, the yellow-footed green pigeon to exotic species like long-billed vulture, the Indian white-backed vulture, the red-headed (king) vulture, the Eurasian griffon vulture, the changeable hawk-eagle, the crested serpent eagle, the bonneli’s eagle, the grey-headed fish eagle, the Pallas’s fish eagle.
The Gir forest is indeed a heaven for wildlife lovers and bird watchers. It can also be a great educational tour for kids. It is a ‘must visit’ place to have a look at the king of the jungle in its own empire.
The best time to visit Gir forest is in winter from December to March when the chances of sighting game are higher and the weather is cooler. The forest remains closed in the monsoon months between June and October post the lion mating season.