In the past, the natural habitat of the Asiatic Lion stretched from northern Greece, across Southwest Asia, to central India. However, slowly and gradually, the species became extinct from all the countries of the world, except India. In the Eastern Europe, Asiatic lions became extinct around 100 AD, while in Palestine, the species disappeared around the time of the Crusades. Asiatic Lions continued to roam the other countries till the mid 1800s. Around this time, firearms were introduced and became one of the primary reasons for the declining trend in the population of the lions.
People started hunting the animal on a large scale, which gradually led
to their total extinction from most of the countries. The species became
extinct in Turkey around the late 1800s. Even in Iran and Iraq, Asiatic
Lions were last sighted in the year 1942 and 1918 respectively. By this
time, the population of the majestic animal had dropped to alarming
proportions in India also. By the turn of the century, Asiatic Lions
were limited to only the Gir forests of India. The population of Asiatic
Lions in India fell to only 13 lions in 1907.
It was then that the Nawab of Junagadh gave lions complete protection
and banned their hunting within his province. The first census of lions
in Gir, by the Indian Government, was carried out in the year 1936 and
yielded a count of 234 animals. The next census was conducted in 1936,
based on identification of individual pugmarks, and revealed a total
population of 234 lions. The census was again carried out between 1968
and 1979, based on animal counts at live baits, and it estimated the
population of lion to be somewhere around 100.
As per the census of 1990, there were 221 adults lions living in the
Gir Lion Reserve and around 30-40 lions were found inhabiting the
adjacent agricultural areas. The current status of the Asiatic Lions is
based on the 2006 census, which revealed a population of around 359
lions in the Gir National Park. The entire population is living within
an area of 1,412 sq km (558 square miles) inside the sanctuary. Though
the population of Asiatic lions in India has increased considerably
since 1907, much still needs to be done.