7 Asiatic Lions including 3 males, 3 females and a cub have been moved from Dalkhaniya range of Gir National Park as a precautionary measure after 14 lions were found dead in the same range since 12th September. The forest department says the lions died due to infighting, though vets also suggested they could have perished because of a lung infection.
As last reported by India’s Endangered, 11 lions were first found dead in the Dalkhaniya range a week back. More lions died subsequently raising the number to 14. Preliminary reports suggested the lions had died due to lung infection. Later, the forest department issued a statement saying the lions had all died of natural causes due to infighting. The Gujarat Forest Department quickly sprang into action and a task force of 64 teams with 270 members was created. These teams have been working in the entire forest area since 24th September, scanning the wild lions and looking for any signs of stress or disease.
“Each of the 64 teams comprise a forester, two beat guards and a lion tracker. These teams will carry out the exercise under the supervision of respective range forest officers. The teams will observe lions and if found ill, they will be given medical treatment. To ensure that sick animals get medical treatment on time, three teams of veterinary experts have also been formed. Each team will have a veterinary expert and a veterinary assistant,” The Indian Express quoted Gujarat’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests G K Sinha as telling media persons in Junagadh.
Death due to infighting
Soon after the news broke of the lion deaths a team of the Joint Director (Wildlife), Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Assistant Inspector General, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and a scientist from the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun flew down to the Dalkhaniya range to study the causes of lion deaths.
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The experts believed that the deaths had occurred due to territorial fights among the lions. The females might have died because of hunger as they retreated to the bushes to protect themselves and the cubs after the fight.
Tissue samples of the dead wild cats have been sent to Pune based National Institute of Virology to ensure that there was no viral infection. They have concluded that the cubs died due to injuries sustained during a territorial fight between male lions over territory
As per the 2015 Census, Gir is home to 523 lions, including 109 male, 201 female, 73 sub-adults and 140 cubs. As against 411 lions in 2010, the population reached 523 in 2015, showing a growth rate of over 27 per cent in five years. With these numbers it can be fairly estimated that many of the lions are living outside the protected periphery of the Gir National Park.
The screening so far has been concluded on 460 lions. Of these the 7 lions were removed from the area for further observation though they seemed healthy.
3 lions were found injured during the scanning and were given on-field treatment.
The Supreme Court of India had asked a secondary habitat for lions be created in 2013. However, till date the orders have not been followed as suitable habitat including one in Madhya Pradesh are still being studied to see if some of the lions from Gir can be shifted there.
With the recent deaths, it is certain that territory options are reducing for lions at Gir and the need for another safe sanctuary for the king of the jungle is very urgent.