FIVE months after 36 Asiatic lions of the Gir (forest) division contracted a deadly respiratory and gastrointestinal disease, the animals are now fit and ready to be released into the wild again, forest officers said on Thursday.
The lions had been rescued from Gir (east) forest division in the last week of September to be treated for a Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) infection. “All the 36 (rescued) lions have survived and recovered,” Dushyant Vasavada, Chief Conservator of Forests, Junagadh Wildlife Circle told The Indian Express on Thursday. “We have decided in principle to release them back in to the wild. When and where…is yet to be worked out.”
As many as 17 of a total of 23 lions that had died between September 12 and October 2, after an outbreak of CDV in Sarasiya Vidi, a forest patch in Gir (east) in Amreli district, perished from the illness. Three others died fighting among themselves while the cause of death of the remaining three could not be ascertained.
CDV is a highly contagious disease that affects a host of wild animals. It had wiped out a third of the lion population in Tanzania in the early 1990s.
Lions are territorial animals and with an increase in their population, they are recapturing their old range. For this reason, experts advise extreme caution while releasing the 36 lions back into the wild following their treatment. Ravi Chella, a researcher who has studied the Asiatic lions of Gir, said that other lions might have moved in to Sarasiya and Semardi by now, and it could lead to territorial fights.
Following the initial deaths of 13 lions in Sarasiya Vidi, 13 lions from the area were taken to Jasadhar Rescue Centre for treatment. However, 10 of them died. Three survived. Another 31 lions from Semardi adjoining Sarasiya Vidi were shifted to Jamwala Rescue Centre in Gir (west) forest division for treatment, while two others from neighbouring Paniya range were taken to Babarkot Rescue Centre near Jafrabad in Amreli social forestry division.
After laboratory tests confirmed the presence of the virus, the lions were given doses of CDV vaccine imported from the United States. “The vaccination cycle, which included administering three doses at specified intervals, has been completed, and presently the animals carry no risk of the disease,” Vasavada said.
Asiatic lions are endangered. Their only wild population in the world survives in the Gir forest and other protected areas spread across Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts in Saurashtra region of Gujarat. A 2015 census counted 523 lions.
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