It has been a devastating September and the news of more lion deaths continue to come in October from Gir National Park in Gujarat. Two more lions passed away on October 2nd taking the toll to a total of 23 lions dying between September 12 and October 2. It has now come to light that at least 4 of these died because of the deadly Canine Distemper Virus which in 1994 had wiped out thousands of African Lions in Tanzania and Kenya.
With growing number of deaths, experts around the country and the world are concerned primarily about the safety of the other lions living in the single abode of the Asiatic Lions in the world. In 2013 the Supreme Court of India had ordered to create a secondary habitat for the lions as a precautionary measure to avoid threatening the entire population of these lions from a calamity of this very nature. However, till date, there have been no attempts to trans-locate some lions from Gir to another habitat.
The Gujarat State government further clarified in a statement today that 11 of the 23 lions dead so far have died because of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) and protozoa infection. There are 36 lions under observation currently with 3 of them looking serious.
Distemper, caused by the canine distemper virus (CDV) is a viral disease and has been known to infect dogs, coyotes, foxes, pandas, and a wide variety of other animals, including big cats. It is transmitted through the air, and symptoms generally include a high fever, inflammation of the eyes and nose, and coughing, which is how the disease is spread. As per a 2015 study, while initially the disease spread to wild cats like lions from dogs, there could be more carriers like hyena that could transmit it. (Source)
Additional Chief Secretary, Gujarat state forest department, Rajiv Kumar Gupta said CDV did not cause the deaths, but it affects the immunity of infected lions.
“Lions with CDV can be infected by protozoa, which is spread by ticks. The presence of both of these causes death. We have found CDV in four and protozoa in seven out of eleven dead lions,” Gupta said to First Post.
One government officer spoke to Down To Earth and remarked, “One must remember that genetic variation is very low among Asiatic Lions. Each animal is related to the other since they all descended from a small founding stock. Genetic variation is needed for resistance to disease. This being not the case, the alleles that should have been avoided, are being reflected.”
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Concerned with the recent developments the Gujarat High Court and the Supreme Court asked the state government to take emergency measures to safeguard the lions. The state now plans to vaccinate all the cattle present in the surrounding areas of the Gir forest. They have also sought the help from experts around the world including the Royal Veterinary Society of London. Additionally, vaccines have been ordered from the US to be given to the wild lions.
- 11 Asiatic Lion deaths were reported between 11 and 19 September in Gir’s Dalkhania Range.
- Between 20 and 30 September 10 more lions died, most at the veterinary and rescue centres where they were being treated.
- Officials claimed that most deaths were due to infighting between the lions. They further added some of the lioness and cubs perished because of starvation as they remained in hiding after the fight.
- Blood and Tissue samples of the dead lions were sent to Pune based National Institute of Virology where results show the presence of Canine Distemper Virus and Protozoa infection
- All wild lions in and around Gir are being screened for infection and injuries.
- In 2015 there were 523 lions counted in the National Park but present surveys suggest the numbers could be more than 600
- 36 lions are being screened now in rescue centres around Gir for health issues. Condition of 3 is deteriorating.
About Asiatic Lions
- Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List
- Protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, India.
- Included on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), making international trade in this species illegal.
- HABITAT Asiatic Lions may be found in scrublands and teak forest of western India.
- RANGE Once roaming from Greece to Central India, Asiatic lions are currently present in the Gir forests and National Park of northwest India.
- Body Length – 1.6-2.5 m
- Weight – Males weight between 150 to 240 kgs and females weigh between 122 to 182 kg. Males are the only wild cats that have manes around the neck.
- Lions have short, tawny coats, white underparts, and long tails with a black tuft at the end.
- Mother lions keep their cubs in hiding until they reach about 8 weeks of age.
- If litters are born close together, a female may nurse the cubs of another female in the pride too.
- Lions have a common greeting ritual of rubbing heads together with tails looped in the air, while moaning.
- Manes are thought to be the symbol of fitness of a male lion.
- Asiatic lions in general have shorter manes than African lions.
- POPULATION Less than 593 Asiatic Lions exist in the wild and all in one particular habitat in Gir forest of India.
- Close proximity with humans and their cattle
- Habitat degradation
- Single habitat risking scarcity of territory as population increases