Gir National Park located some 60 kms away from Junagadh is the home of the near extinct Asiatic Lion. The Asiatic Lion has fallen prey, despite its strength, to urbanisation, poaching, and all the ills human populations cause as they expand. India’s national emblem- the four-lion Ashokan capital- is one of the places lions can be readily seen. The other, of course, is the famous Gir Forest in Gujarat, the last stronghold of this majestic creature.
Nearly exterminated by 1910- a result of drought, irate villagers and sheer indifference- the Gir lions were brought under protection by the Nawab of Junagadh, who banned all hunting in the area. After independence, in 1965, the Indian government declared the area a national park. The lion population- which had sunk to an alarming two dozen in the early 20th century- has slowly climbed over the years since, and now numbers about 300. The Gir National Park and Lion Sanctuary is collectively known as the Gir Protected Area. Gir stretches over 1,412 sq km of scrub and grassland, dry deciduous forest and some marshland. Besides lions, Gir harbours antelope, deer, leopards, hyenas, crocodiles and jackals, along with a spectacular array of birds.
An important part of the Gir Protected Area is the 4 sq km spread known as the Gir Interpretation Zone, about 12 km from Sasan Gir Village, the headquarters of the park. The Zone has a cross-section of wildlife within the park, and a visit here almost guarantees a lion sighting, which is otherwise a hit-or-miss affair in other parts of Gir.
There are many tribal groups who live around Gir that have chequered antecedents.
Gir is the home of the Maldharis, who are one sect of a pastoral group of people settled in this area. The tribal Maldharis of Gir who are Hindus and Muslims live in traditional settlements called nesses and tend Jafrabadi buffalos, Gir cows and other livestock. Among the best-known pastoral groups of Gir is the Sorathi Rabari.
Another community - the Siddis claim African origins. It is generally believed that the Siddis came here as slaves and mercenaries from some African countries. In Gir, there are villages of the Siddis, who are well known for their dances and other performing arts.