Saturday, March 16, 2013

Male Asiatic Lion

On one of the morning game drives at Sasan Gir, the "trackers" alerted the jeeps to the fact that they had located a male lion.  He was not far off the road, but too far to see, so they were allowing the jeeps to go a little off road and drive up to the thicket where the lion was laying.  They directed the jeeps in succession - each jeep was waved in and out and give one minute to take photos.  Yes, one minute.  The trackers were on foot, very, very near the lion.  He did not seem to be paying them any mind, and he was clearly used to jeeps, though not necessarily overly fond of them driving right up to him over and over.  The photos show the lion in the thicket (one of the shots of my one minute) and then the proximity of the jeep.

This was a bizarre way to see a lion.  I suppose it was fair in the sense that every tourist jeep in the area got a chance to see the lion and take photos for one minute.  However, this is not the type of wildlife experience I personally care to have.  Lucky for me the lion decided to depart the scene after a few jeeps and I was positioned in the right place to see him exit the thicket and walk into better light.

Sadly for him, the trackers followed, and appeared to be trying to steer him towards a large rock in a clearing which would be good for viewing, but he looked back at them a few times and went into thicker cover.  When I left they were off pursuing him through the bush, yelling as usual.

I have been lucky enough to see many lions, on several trips to Africa, so I know there is a much more pleasant way to do it.  I really wanted to see Asiatic lions, and this was one of only two males I saw this trip.  Overall though, the fact that there were yelling humans and men with sticks pursuing the lion ruined it for me.  Not to mention you can't just sit and watch the wildlife - this park is so crowded that if you do find a lion you won' t be alone with it for long, and it will be chased off or you will have to compete for a view.  And in this park, many of the jeeps are filled with families with children and are very noisy.

Having been on wildlife trips all over the world, I have seen very few children on such trips until India.  In India, they have different park admission prices/camera fees/etc. for Indians and for foreigners - which I can certainly support, as the people responsible for wildlife conservation ought to be able to access the wildlife.  However, the Indians tended to travel in large groups, packing 6 to 10 people into each jeep, and often there were small kids and even babies.  I can honestly say that on a game drive where you have no access to facilities for 3 hours at a time and noise can scare off animals, kids would be my last choice....and it was truly bizarre to be looking at lions while kids screamed - literally.  It was even more amazing that the lions were so used to it they didn't care.  For whatever reason, there are no hushed voices here - the Indians literally would yell, talk in normal or very loud voices, and just behave next to the animals even worse than I typically see in zoos.  It was astonishing.

There is no other way to see Asiatic lions than to go to Sasan Gir - and with demand what it is I am sure they are not going to make an "adults only" game drive, or do away with the "trackers" who "help" make the lions viewable.  But wow.  Just not the way I had hoped to see these lions.  I ended up feeling terribly sad for them and hoping that the lions outside the tourist zone and deeper in the forest have a much better life.

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