Asiatic lions in Gujarat’s Gir forest dying of Canine Distemper Virus: ICMR
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Friday said that a highly contagious and life-threatening viral infection, which wiped out 30% of the total lion population in East Africa, was responsible for the death of five out of the 23 Asiatic lions in Gujarat’s Gir forest since September 12.
In a statement, the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, said that it has found that the said five lions were infected by canine distemper virus (CDV). The disease was confirmed after a complete CDV genome test was done by the scientists of ICMR and its main laboratory, National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune.
“ICMR-NIV, based in Pune, found CDV responsible for the death of five Asiatic lions in Gir forest... As such for the first time a complete genome of CDV was recovered by NIV. The sequence was compared to available CDV sequences and it was found to be related to the East African strains…” the statement said.
Considering the threat posed to the endangered species, the research body has recommended CDV vaccine shots for all the lions in Gir as an immediate protective measure. The government has imported 300 shots of CDV vaccine from the US for the lions.
New agency PTI quoted additional chief secretary of the forest department Rajiv Kumar Gupta as saying that “the consignment has just reached Gir. We will take a call on vaccinating lions in the coming days after analysing various reports”.
Director of Sakkarbaug Zoo, J S Rana, who collected the consignment at Rajkot aiport Friday, said the vaccine has proved effective in other countries and it offers protection against CDV for one year.
The ICMR has also recommended that to avoid extinction, the lions should be placed in two-three different sanctuaries.
Twenty-three lions have died in Gir forest since September 12, prompting the government to launch massive operations to ensure that the infection does not spread to other big cats in their only abode in Asia.
The condition of three of over 36 lions, currently under observation of the forest department in Gujarat, is critical. The state government has sought national as well as international help in saving the lions.
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had said Thursday that lions contracted a “contagious disease” after eating “contaminated food”.
Canine distemper virus is known mainly to cause a severe infection in dogs that could possibly turn fatal. Dogs are considered the primary source of infection and virus transmission. However, CDV may also affect wild carnivores such as wolves, foxes, raccoons, red pandas, ferrets, hyenas, tigers, and lions. The prevalence of this virus and its diversity in wildlife of India is not adequately studied. A few reports are available regarding the detection of CDV in captive wild carnivores, including tigers and red pandas.
In 2016, at least four lions that died at Etawah in Uttar Pradesh were infected by the CDV, as confirmed by the Indian Veterinary Research Institute. In early 1994, CDV wiped out 30% of the total lion population in the Serengeti forest areas in East Africa .
As per the forest department’s 2015 census, Gujarat was home to 523 lions — the count having almost doubled since 1990, when it was 284. The latest initial estimates put the count at over 600 lions.