Updated: October 4, 2018 7:34:55 am
A day after two more lions died and the total toll in Gir sanctuary rose to 23 in three weeks, the Gujarat government on Wednesday confirmed the presence of deadly canine distemper virus (CDV) in four of them. State forest department officials also said that they have sought the help from international experts to mitigate the situation and that dozes of CDV vaccines imported from USA were likely to be delivered in a day.
“The samples of four dead lions tested by a Pune-based National Institute of Virology (NIV) laboratory have returned positive for canine distemper virus,” Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava told reporters in Gandhinagar.
Officials said that the samples tested by NIV had been drawn from four of the 11 Asiatic lions that died between September 12 and September 19. Additional Chief Secretary (Forest & Environment) Rajiv Gupta said that samples of other seven dead lions had revealed presence of Babesia protozoal infection. “The CDV did not cause deaths of these lions. But this virus affects immune system of animals. Lions having contracted CDV can also get infected by Babesia protozoa. Attack of viral and protozoal infection can cause death. Of the 11 dead lions, CDV has been detected in four and Babesia protozoa in seven,” said Gupta.
In a press release, issued by Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) of Junagadh wildlife circle Dushyant Vasavada, later in the evening the number of dead lions testing positive for babesia protozoa increased to 10.
“Reports of samples of four lions have returned positive for viral infection and 10 other samples have revealed presence of babesia protozoa,” the CCF said in an official release, suggesting that 15 of the 23 lions died either due to CDV or due to protozoal infection spread by tick parasite.
Notably, samples of two dead lions cubs that were examined by Junagadh veterinary college had tested negative for CDV on September 26.
Explained | What is killing the pride of Gujarat’s Gir?
All the 11 lions that died initially had settled in Sarasiya Vidi, a forest area in Dalkhaniya rage in Gir (East) forest division of Amreli district. After the sudden deaths of the lions, the forest department had launched a drive to screen each and every lion in their habitat spread over 3,000 square kilometre and covering Gir forest and other protected areas in Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts.
At the same time, 15 other lions found in Sarasiya Vidi were rescued and shifted to Jasadhar Rescue Centre. However, 12 of them died between September 20 and October 2. CCF Vasavada confirmed on Wednesday that two more lions died while being given treatment at Jasadhar Rescue Centre. Of the 23 deaths, 14 occurred at rescue centres, while the animals were being given treatment there. “The samples of the dead lions have been sent to NIV, Pune, for special tests,” he added.
Gir forest and other protected areas in Gujarat are the only natural habitat of Asiatic lions in the world. The 2015 census had estimated population of Asiatic lions in Gir and other protected areas to be 523.
While Gir lions have not witnessed any major attack of disease, four lions sent to the Safari Park in Etawah in Uttar Pradesh from Sakkar Baug zoo had died due to CDV in 2016.
After the multiple deaths, which forest officers had initially attributed to internal fighting among lions over territory, forest department has rescued 31 lions from Shemardi area adjoining the Sarasiya Vidi and two from neighbouring Paniya area and shifted them to Jamwala Rescue Centre in Gir (west) forest division and Babarkot Rescue Centre in Amreli social forestry division.
“The rescued lions have been kept under observation as a precautionary measure. We have imported 300 shots of vaccine from USA and the lot is likely to be delivered tomorrow (Thursday). If required, we shall administer the vaccine to the lions under observation. Simultaneously, teams will draw samples of blood and swab of lions from other areas to ascertain id the infection has spread to other parts of the forest. All the cattle population in around Gir forest will be vaccinated within a week,” Additional Chief Secretary Gupta said.
He also said that the state government has also sought help from London zoo and Royal Veterinary College of London to tackle the situation. Experts from Delhi Zoo, Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Bareilli and Safari Park, Etawa in Uttar Pradesh are camping in Gujarat for helping forest officers to mitigate the situation. The CDV primarily affects dogs. But the virus had attacked lions in Tanzania in Africa in mid-1990 and had wiped out around a third of lion population. The virus attacks immune system and respiratory systems of lions. Due to low reduced immunity, lions contract secondary infections like protozoa and lead to further complications, scientists at College of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry at Junagadh Agricultural University said.
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