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Sunday, June 07, 2020

Babesiosis outbreak killing lions in Gir forest

Around 20 lions have been killed in the Tulsishyam, Jasadhar and Hadala ranges of the Gir (East) Wildlife Division in the last two months.

Written by Gopal Kateshiya | Rajkot | Published: May 6, 2020 9:26:02 pm
Lion found dead in Gir, samples sent for tests Forest officers said that babesia protozoa attacks red blood cell of lions, leading to anaemia.

Around 20 lions in Gir (east) wildlife division were killed in the last two months following an outbreak of babesiosis.

“We have lost some animals because of the disease caused by blood protozoa called babesia, which, in turn, spreads through tick infestation and mite bite,” a top officer of Gujarat forest department told The Indian Express on Wednesday adding that they are trying to contain the outbreak.

A section of the local media has been reporting for almost a fortnight that lions are dying under mysterious circumstances in Gir (east) wildlife division spread across Amreli and Gir Somnath districts and that more than 20 big cats have died in such a manner over the past two months. The officer told The Indian Express that most of the recent deaths of the endangered species from Tulsishyam, Jasadhar and Hadala ranges of Gir (east) forest division have been caused by babesiosis .

Incidentally, a babesiosis outbreak had coincided with the outbreak of canine distemper virus (CDV) in Sarasiya range of Gir (east) in September, 2018. The combination of the viral and protozoal infections had killed around two dozen lions before Gujarat forest department imported CDV vaccine from the US and vaccinated almost all lions in the Gir forest and other protected areas. Forest officers said that babesia protozoa attacks red blood cell of lions, leading to anaemia. An anaemic animal becomes susceptible to other diseases like CDV.

“It was established in 2018 that CDV and babesiosis were a combination. It is like COVID-19, which alone doesn’t kill many. But if one already has comorbidity, then it proves deadly,” the officer added.

The officer further said that once an animal survives CDV infection, it develops life-long immunity against the virus and the outbreak already seems under control. “We have adopted a multi-pronged approach. We are de-worming livestock of cattle-herders (which forms a significant portion of the diet of Asiatic lions). We are disinfecting their enclosures where ticks and mites could be there. We are also burning grass and hay around water holes,” said the officer.

The officer further added that antibiotics are administered to the lions stricken by babesiosis and normally the treatment goes on for around five days. “We have already managed to successfully treat six animals. Also, there hasn’t been any deaths due to the disease for almost a week now. Now, our approach is to treat the animals in the wild itself,” added the officer.

Asiatic lions have been categorised as an endangered species by International Union on Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The only wild population of this species of big cats in the world is found in Gir forest and other protected areas spread across Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts.

Incidentally, Ram Ratan Nala, the director of Jungle Safari Park at Statue of Unity in Kevadiya in Narmada district was sent on deputation to Jasadhar animal care centre in Gir (east) to treat infected lions and to control the outbreak.

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