The mysterious death of 23 lions in the span of one month has left the nation, and even the Supreme Court flummoxed. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court took notice of the development and asked the Centre and the state government to get to the bottom of the matter. On Thursday, Gujarat’s Forest and Environment minister Ganpat Vasava told PTI that at least 11 of 23 lions who died in Gujarat’s Gir forest were found to be infected with deadly Canine Distemper Virus (CDV).
CDV is a contagious disease that affects a wide variety of animal families, including domestic and wild species of dogs, foxes, pandas, wolves, and large cats. This deadly virus, which attacks the respiratory and nervous systems of animals, had caused deaths of hundreds of lions in Africa in 1990s.
The virus was found after a Pune-based National Institute of Virology (NIV) laboratory tested the samples of four dead lions. The samples were taken from four of the 11 lions that had died between September 12 and September 19.
Still, the government maintains that the deaths of lions occurred in the last few weeks were not due to the virus but because of infighting. According to a report in The Indian Express, Gujarat Forest Department Additional Chief Secretary Rajiv Kumar Gupta said that the virus didn’t cause the deaths of the lions but it did affect the immunity of infected lions, rendering them vulnerable to death even due to small diseases.
“Lions with CDV can be infected by Protozoa infection which is spread by ticks. Presence of both of these causes death. We have found CDV in four and Protozoa in seven out of eleven dead lions,” Gupta told the national daily.
News agency PTI on Thursday reported that the state government has imported a vaccine from the US to protect the lions. “We have urgently imported 300 (shots of) a vaccine from Atlanta, which we will administer to 36 lions, if needed, who are under observation,” PTI quoted Rajiv Kumar Gupta as saying.
The Additional Chief Secretary further said that the Forest officials would collect random samples of blood and swabs of lions from other ranges of the Gir forest, as a measure to ascertain their health status. “In the next seven days, we will vaccinate all the cattle present in surrounding areas of the Gir forest,” he said.
He also informed that the government has sought national and international help to fight the threat on the directions of the chief minister. “We are also seeking the help of experts of Royal Veterinary Society of London,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court and the Gujarat High Court have sought a response from the Centre and the state governments over the death of lions. According to a Hindustan Times report, a Supreme Court bench headed by justice Madan B Lokur told additional solicitor general ANS Nadkarni: “Today, we are faced with a peculiar problem. Lions are dying. There seems to be some kind of virus. We do not know. It is coming in newspapers. You find it out.”