I drove with a guide one recent afternoon along the sandy tracks of the Gir national park and wildlife sanctuary, a 545-square-mile haven of peace and beauty in a remote corner of south-western Gujarat seven hours by car from the frenetic metropolis of Ahmedabad. We passed through deciduous forest carpeted in the crisp, plate-sized leaves of teak trees – a landscape of pale browns and yellows stretched out beneath the brilliant-blue sky of an Indian winter.
We saw herds of spotted deer grazing on the parched grass, langur monkeys cavorting in the dappled sunlight, and sambar and nilgai (huge antelope also known as blue bulls). We spotted flocks of green parakeets and strutting peacocks. Then we found what we had come to see.
Lying beside a watering hole, dozing in the gentle afternoon warmth, was a pride of lions: two lionesses and five offspring. The mothers raised their great heads to regard us with regal indifference as we gazed in awe. These are the only wild lions found anywhere outside Africa. And while their African counterparts are being so decimated by hunters, poachers and habitat destruction that barely 25,000 remain, here they are making a miraculous recovery from virtual extinction.[…]