India holds five-yearly census of endangered asiatic lions

India on Saturday began a five-yearly count of asiatic lions in the western state of Gujarat's Gir sanctuary, the last habitat for the endangered big cats globally, an official said. -- PHOTO: AFP
India on Saturday began a five-yearly count of asiatic lions in the western state of Gujarat's Gir sanctuary, the last habitat for the endangered big cats globally, an official said. -- PHOTO: AFP

AHMEDABAD (AFP) - India on Saturday began a five-yearly count of asiatic lions in the western state of Gujarat's Gir sanctuary, the last habitat for the endangered big cats globally, an official said.

The last census in 2010 revealed 411 lions were living in the 20,000 square kilometre sanctuary, up from 359 lions in 2005. Officials expect to record a significant increase in the number of wild cats in the latest count.

"The census that began today will continue until May 5 in five districts of the state. The lions which have migrated outside the sanctuary will also be counted," principal chief conservator of forests C. N. Pandey told AFP.

Officials said the experts conducting the census would use a combination of direct sightings, photographs and GPS tracking technology to document each lion and avoid double counting.

Around 2,500 people, including wildlife experts from India's top universities, are participating in the counting process, with the final results expected on May 10.

India faces intense international scrutiny over its conservation efforts because it is home to many endangered species, including tigers.

But in January its conservation efforts were hailed by experts after 2,226 tigers were spotted in a country wide census, a 30 percent increase in the population from 2010, when the figure was 1,706.