Days after the death of 11 Asiatic lions, the state Forest Department on Sunday formed 64 teams to screen the entire population of the endangered species in Gir forest and other protected areas to identify any sick big cat and give them medical treatment. The samples of the dead carnivores have also been sent to Pune’s National Institute of Virology to ascertain if any virus caused the death.
“Each of the 64 teams comprise a forester, two beat guards and a lion tracker. These teams will carry out the exercise under the supervision of respective range forest officers. A total 270 guards and officers have been assigned the task. In fact, teams in Dalkhaniya range have already started screening the big cats from today,” Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) G K Sinha told mediapersons in Junagadh on Sunday.
“The teams will observe the lions and if found ill, they will be given medical treatment. To ensure that sick animals get medical treatment on time, three teams of veterinary experts have also been formed. Each team will have a veterinary expert and a veterinary assistant,” Sinha added.
The development comes three days after it came to light that 11 lions had died in the last fortnight in Dalkhaniya and Jasadhar ranges of Gir (east) forest division in Amreli district. Forest officers have prima facie concluded that the death of six cubs, three adult lionesses and two adult male lions were natural as they were triggered by an infighting or fight between male lions to take over a pride and its territory. They say that the cubs died due to injuries they had sustained during the fight while lionesses caught infection as they retreated to bushes and went hungry following the fight.
Officers said that joint director of wildlife in the Union environment ministry, assistant inspector general of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and a project scientist from Wildlife Institute of India (WII) had arrived in Gujarat on the request of the state government. While the joint director of wildlife and assistant director general made field visits of Gir (east) forest on Saturday, another team led by the WII scientist made the field visit on Sunday. “After primary discussion with field staff, the experts also have primarily opined that the deaths were caused due to infighting,” a release from Chief Conservator of Forests (Junagadh wildlife circle) stated.
The quinquennial lion census of 2015 had pegged the population of Asiatic lions to 523.
Meanwhile, the experts suggested continuous monitoring of the movement of lions, vaccination of cattle living on the periphery of Gir forest among others. The PCCF said that further course of action will be decided based on findings of the laboratory tests of the dead animals’ samples.