Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar on Wednesday lauded a 29% rise in the population of Asiatic lions in Gujarat’s Gir forest, calling it a “conservation success”. Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also said this was very good news.

The Gujarat forest department has said that the Asiatic lion population in Gir National Park has risen by 29% in the past five years. The population estimation was carried out on the night of June 5 and June 6, without holding a census. This is reportedly one of the highest growth rates for the animal so far.

The population increased to 674 this year as compared to 523 in 2015. Of the 674 lions, 161 were males, 260 females, 116 sub-adult lions, and 137 cubs. The forest department said the distribution area of lions in Saurashtra has also increased by 36% – to 30,000 sq km in 2020 from 22,000 sq km in 2015.

“Asiatic Lion roars louder,” Javadekar tweeted. “Happy to note that the population of the majestic Lion increased by almost 29% and distribution area is up by 36%.” The minister added that multiple strategies, interventions and community participation are major contributors to the current conservation success of the Indian lions.

The prime minister congratulated the people of Gujarat. “Population of the majestic Asiatic Lion, living in Gujarat’s Gir Forest, is up by almost 29%,” Modi said in a tweet. “Geographically, distribution area is up by 36%. Kudos to the people of Gujarat and all those whose efforts have led to this excellent feat.”

The population estimation exercise was called “Poonam Avlokan” since it was carried out during full moon. The exercise is usually conducted at an interval of five years. The last one was conducted in May 2015, where it was found that there are 523 Asiatic lions in the forest, a 27% increase from the estimation of 2010. However, they could not conduct this year’s usual census in May because of the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

Gujarat’s Chief Wildlife Warden Shyamlal Tikadar told the Hindustan Times that the population of Asiatic lions, which was once under the threat of extinction, has now improved. He said this was due to the timely intervention of the erstwhile Nawab of Junagadh and the various programmes the state government has undertaken.

“Today, Asiatic lions are present in protected areas and agro-pastoral landscape of Saurashtra covering nine districts in a sprawling expanse of over 30,000 sq km, which is termed as the Asiatic Lion landscape,” Tikadar said.

He said the exercise was conducted with 1,400 forest guards of 13 divisions, who were asked to spot lions and report about their presence.