An alternative method of monitoring endangered lions in India can help improve estimates of their numbers and also in making informed conservation policy and management decisions.
New conservation practices have helped increase the number of Asiatic lions from 50 to 500 in the Gir Forests of Gujarat.
Accurate estimates are needed for better conservation efforts, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The existing methods, particularly a technique known as total counts, can miss some and double-count others. Also, they provide limited information on the spatial density.
Conserving this sub-specie of lions with the use of best scientific methods is a global priority and responsibility, according to authors of the study from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
In the new study, Keshab Gogoi and his colleagues have demonstrated an alternative method for monitoring Asiatic lions.
“Our research addresses this priority by developing a robust approach to their population assessment and monitoring, which can be used for all lion populations across the world,” said an author.
Gogoi and colleagues used whisker patterns and permanent body marks to identify lions using a computer programme, and analysed the data with a mathematical modelling method known as ‘spatially explicit capture recapture’ to estimate the lion density.
They also assessed the prey density and other factors that could influence the lion density.
The researchers identified 67 lions of the 368 sightings within the 725 sq km study area in the Gir Forests, estimating an overall density of 8.53 lions per 100 sq km. They found the prey density didn’t appear to influence the lion density variations in the study area.
The lion density was higher in the flat valley habitats (as opposed to rugged or elevated areas) and near sites where food had been placed to attract lions for tourists to see them.