Heavy monsoon rains and flash floods, reportedly some of the worst in almost a century, have been causing havoc and loss of life in the Gujarat region of western India in recent days – affecting not only the area's human inhabitants, but also rare wildlife like endangered Asiatic lions.

Gujarat is the last stronghold of this rare lion subspecies, whose only remaining wild population inhabits the region's Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. Flash floods triggered by recent torrential rains have submerged large swathes of lion habitat in the past week, driving some of the big cats out of forest. 

Video footage reportedly captured by a tourist on a mobile phone late last week shows a lone lion emerging from a forest and leaping onto a highway bordering the Gir sanctuary. 

The carcasses of as many as nine lions, including a three-month-old female cub, have been found in some of the worst-affected districts, reports India Today, while another 35 of the cats are missing, according to forest officials. The carcasses of hundreds of other animals, including Asian antelope, wild boar and spotted deer have also been found. Forest guards have since been dispatched to comb the area for any other wildlife casualties. 

"There has been large-scale destruction to the lions' habitat in [the district of] Amreli. We will know their condition only once the flood waters recede and the villages become accessible through roads," a local wildlife conservationist told The Times of India.


Flooding during India's annual monsoon season is a regular occurrence, but this year's rains came early and have been unusually intense. And for Asiatic lion populations, even a few casualties represent a considerable loss. Once widespread across India, the cats are today restricted to the 22,000-square-kilometre expanse of the Gir sanctuary. A survey carried out just last month put their numbers at 523, up 27 percent from the last census conducted in 2010.

Despite the flood casualties, India's wildlife experts say there is no reason to be overly concerned. “The Gir national park has got a lot of elevations and hills that lions retreat to when it floods,” a scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India told Scroll.in. 

Still, the deaths have reignited a long-standing debate about the whether the cats are at risk because they're confined to just one remaining sanctuary. Those concerns have flared up in recent days as the floods create ideal conditions for the spread of disease. “The floods are a reminder that we need to translocate some lions to other sanctuaries so that they can survive outside Gir as well,” a wildlife conservationist told Scroll.in. “Right now, we are putting all our eggs in the same basket.”

Top header image: Tomi Tirkkonen, Flickr