WHILE THE Gujarat forest department has successfully contained an outbreak of the contagious canine distemper virus (CDV) which claimed the lives of at least 17 Asiatic lions, the 36 other lions which had been rescued in its aftermath are still under observation and officers say they have not yet drawn any plans for their rehabilitation as “they are treading an uncharted territory” post the first major outbreak of the disease in Gir forest.
As many as 23 Asiatic lions had died in Sarasiya Vidi in Dalkhaniya range of Gir (east) forest division in Amreli district between September 12 and September 29. Laboratory tests had confirmed that at least 17 of them died due to CDV.
After the death toll climbed to 13 by September 24, the forest department had rescued the remaining 13 lions from Sarasiya Vidi, a 25 square kilometre forest patch near Sarasiya village in Dalkhaniya range, and shifted them to Jasadhar Rescue Centre in Gir (east) forest division. But 10 of them died by September 29, taking the number of deaths to 23 in about three weeks. As the carnivores continued to die mysteriously even in the Jasadhar Rescue Centre, forest department sensed something unusual and rescued 33 lions from nearby forest areas like Semardi and Paniya range between September 26 and September 27 as a precautionary measure and put them under observation. The 31 lions rescued from Semardi were shifted to Jamwala Rescue Centre in Gir (west) forest division and two captured from Paniya were shifted to Animal Rescue Centre in Babarkot in Amreli social forestry division.
These 36 Asiatic lions have been in captivity in the three rescue centres for around six weeks now and are likely to continue to be there for the foreseeable future.
Chief conservator of forests (CCF) of Junagadh wildlife circle Dushyant Vasavada said that the animals under observation have been given two doses of the CDV and are seemingly healthy, they would continue to remain under observation. “As per the protocol, after giving the first dose of the vaccine, two booster doses have to be given for better efficacy of the vaccine. The first booster dose of the vaccine can be given three weeks after the first dose. The second booster dose has to be given three weeks after the first booster dose. The animals were given the first dose of vaccine on October 6 and 7. Subsequently, the first booster dose was given. But they are still under observation. Veterinarians will decide if and when to give the second booster,” Vasavada told The Indian Express.
Those associated with the monitoring said they are dealing with a never-seen-before situation. “We are treading an uncharted territory. Gir forest and its management have never had to deal with such an outbreak of disease. Vaccinating wild animals is not common. Plus, we have to be absolutely sure about fitness of the rescued animals before releasing them back into the wild. It is possible that treatment may cleanse the virus. It is also possible that virus may be suppressed temporarily but continue to remain present in an animal and that animal may become a carrier of the virus. Presently, we are conducting regular tests of the rescued animals to know their progress,” said an officer.