State wildlife boss junks UK scientist’s claims of a deadly virus in Gir

UK expert claims that the virus that killed 1000-odd lions in Tanzania in 1994 was found in the body of an Asiatic lion that died six years ago.

Written by Express News Service | Ahmedabad | Published: May 17, 2013 4:35 am

Gujarat’s Wildlife Warden C N Pandey has dismissed claims by a British scientist that a deadly virus that killed about 1,000 African lions in Tanzania’s Serengeti national park in 1994 was detected in a dead Asiatic lion in Gir about six years ago.

According to a report on a national daily’s website,Professor Richard Kock of the Royal Veterinary College has said that the Peste des petits ruminants virus (PPRV),which was detected in the Gir lion,belongs to the same genus as that of the canine distemper virus (CDV) that wiped out lions from Tanzania’s Serengeti national park.

Pandey,however,said there was “no reason to panic”.

“It should also be noted that PPRV was detected,not CDV. They are two different viruses,” he said.

In June 2012,Journal of Veterinary Science (JVS) had reported details of how a PPRV was detected in a dead Asiatic Lion’s body.

When contacted,Raj Kumar Singh,director of Hisar’s National Research Centre on Equines who was one of the authors of the study,told The Indian Express that PPRV,which normally infects certain herbivores,can easily jump from one animal to the other if they are in close contact.

“For example in Gir,sheep and goats are available in plenty. Suppose they are grazing in one spot and later a lion comes and stays there for sometime,it could contract the virus as well,” Singh said.

He said the Asiatic Lion he and other scientists studied died from trypanosomiasis,a blood parasite,but the presence of PPR virus in the top carnivore should prompt more research. He said he had met and discussed with Dr Kock the findings of the study last year.

In the JVS paper,the scientific team wrote,“Favourable climatic conditions may promote virus survival,spread of the virus,and distribution of seasonal outbreaks…. The detection of PPRV in the tissue samples from as Asiatic lion may be of significance. Detection of PPRV antigen/nucleic acids in tissues from the Asiatic lion was indicative of subclinical/inapparent infection. Such cases of infection could be due to close contact with other infected animals or contaminated fomites.”

The revelation about the virus’ presence in a wild Asiatic lion from Gir comes even as Gujarat this week filed a review petition against the Supreme Court’s recent judgment ordering trans-location of some lions from Gir,home to the species’ last wild population,to Kuno Palpur sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.

The SC’s April 15 judgment favouring the establishment of a second habitat for Asiatic lions relied heavily on the scientific opinion that said a second population is necessary given an epidemic could wipe out the single population. The Serengeti epidemic was cited in court as a precedence.

The state government had in turn argued that “good conservation practices and intensive wild life health care has lead to epidemic free regime over generations of wildlife including Asiatic lion in the [Gir area.”

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