After the death of 23 Asiatic lions in Gir forest — some of them tested positive for deadly canine distemper virus (CDV) — the state forest and animal husbandry departments on Sunday launched a joint operation to vaccinate dogs in 20 villages surrounding Sarasiya Vidi area from where the lion deaths were reported. The forest department has also started vaccinating lions which were rescued from the Shemardi area, adjoining Sarasiya, and are currently under observation.
After the presence of CDV was confirmed in samples of four of the dead lions, the forest and animal husbandry departments had begun vaccinating cattle in villages surrounding the Gir forest. On Sunday, they undertook another operation from Kubda village in Dalkhanihya range in Dhari taluka of Amreli district to vaccinate dogs against rabies and CDV in order to contain the spread of the virus.
“We have decided to vaccinate dogs and cattle in 20 villages as a precautionary measure. The state animal husbandry department is doing the vaccination in consultation with the forest department,” Dushyant Vasavada, Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) of Junagadh wildlife circle told The Indian Express.
A team led by Nilpesh Savalia, a veterinary officer of Dhari taluka, and comprising dog catchers and three local forest guards, drove to Kubda, seven kilometres from Dhari and formally started the operation to vaccinate street dogs and pet dogs. “The CDV can spread through dog’s saliva, droppings etc. The virus can infect other animals who come in direct contact of such matter or through aerosol (suspension of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in air). Therefore, to contain the spread of the virus, vaccination of each and every dog is necessary,” Savalia said.
Besides injecting the twin vaccines, veterinarians also drew random samples of dogs for laboratory tests to know if they had been infected by the virus. “We have begun the operation today with one team. We shall request our head office to add more teams so that the task can be completed within a few day and all the dogs in 20 villages are vaccinated,” added the veterinary officer.
People living in villages, nestling the forest,said that they felt it to be their duty to cooperate with the vaccination drive. “I am hearing for the first time in my life that 23 lions have died in one go. Something must be wrong. If it is due to virus, we have to contain it. If dogs are the reason of the virus, we have to do what animal husbandry and forest department officers are asking us to do,” said Karsan Dafda, a resident of Kubda after getting his pet labrador dog vaccinated on Sunday.
Kapil Kotadiya, sarpanch of Kubda village, said he wants every dog of the village vaccinated and asked the veterinary officer and forest guards what their plans were if some dogs were left out on the first day of operation. The officers and the guards assured him to visit the village again in case some dogs were left out of the vaccination drive.
Meanwhile, the CCF said that they have started vaccinating 33 lions which have been kept in isolation at rescue centres in Jamwala in Gir (West) division and at Babarkot in Amreli social forestry division. He further said that top lion experts of the world had been consulted before the lions were administered doses of poly-vaccine imported from the US and which gives protection against a host of viruses, including the CDV.
Between September 12 and October 2, 23 Asiatic lions died in Sarasiya Vidi, a reserved forest in Dalkhaniya range of Gir (east) forest division Amreli district. The Gir forest and other protected areas spread over Amreli, Junagadh, Gir Somnath and Bhavnagar districts are the only natural habitat of Asiatic lions in the world. A population estimation exercise in the 2015 had pegged the number of the endangered Asiatic lions in Gir and other protected areas at 523.