A day after tests confirmed that at least four of the 23 lions which died within three weeks in Gir had contracted the deadly canine distemper virus (CDV), forest officers on Thursday said that their focus was on securing 33 lions which have been rescued from the forest area adjoining Sarasiya Vidi from where the infection has been reported.
“Our priority is to secure the 33 lions which have been rescued, isolated and put under observation. We have sent blood and tissue samples of these 33 lions to Pune’s National Institute of Virology (NIV), Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Bareilly, College of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry of Junagadh Agricultural University and the laboratory of Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre in Gandhinagar. We are waiting for the test results if any of these lions have also contracted the infection,” Dushyant Vasavada, Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) of Junagadh wildlife circle told The Indian Express.
The 23 lion deaths have been reported from Sarasiya Vidi in Dalkhaniya range of Gir (east) forest division in Amreli district. While 11 lions died between September 12 and 19, the tally went up to 23 by second of this month as 12 more lions died mysteriously.
Laboratory reports have confirmed that four of them had contracted CDV which attacks immune and respiratory systems of lions making foot pads of the carnivores stiff. Reduced immunity makes the big cats vulnerable to secondary infections like Babesia protozoa, an infection spread by tick parasite. Presence of Babesia protozoa has been confirmed in 10 dead lions.
“The 300 vaccine shots that we are importing from the US are likely to be delivered to us in Junagadh on Friday evening. We are keeping a close watch on the condition of the rescued lions,” the CCF added.
Meanwhile, an official release said that samples had been drawn from 13 lions from various parts of Gir forest and had been sent to various laboratories to check if they had contracted any infection. These samples had been drawn from lions living in forest areas near Dhari and Khambha in Amreli district and neighbouring Visavadar taluka in Junagadh district.
Rajiv Gupta, Additional Chief Secretary (Forest & Environment), had on Wednesday said that if required, the rescued lions will be given shots of vaccines being imported from the USA.
However, sources claimed that there was no proper action plan in place. “Vaccinating wild lions is a fraught issue. The vaccine which is being imported from the USA is a poly-vaccine, meaning that it gives immunity against a group of viruses, including the CDV. But administering this vaccine to wild lions is difficult. The vaccine remains most efficient if two booster doses are given after administering the primary first shot. Keeping wild lions in captivity for months is risky. Similarly, it is also difficult to keep track of each individual were they to be released in forest after administering the primary dose. So, vaccinating lions in captivity, for example in a zoo set-up is easy. But vaccinating wild lions will be treading new territory,” said a top officer on the condition of anonymity.
On the other hand, scientists at Junagadh veterinary college say that once an animal contracts a viral infection, treatment options become very limited and that preventive vaccination is the only option.