23 lions die at Gir sanctuary, SC seeks Centre and Gujarat govts to respond
The Supreme Court and the Gujarat high court on Wednesday took note of the deaths of 23 lions in the Gir sanctuary since September 20, and sought a response from the Centre and the state government .
The Gujarat government has blamed infighting and the spread of a virus for the deaths.
Gujarat state forest minister Ganpat Vasava on Tuesday said four of the 23 lions had died because of canine distemper virus (CDV) and reports on the remaining deaths were awaited.
“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,” a Supreme Court bench headed by justice Madan B Lokur told additional solicitor general ANS Nadkarni.
A Gujarat high court division bench comprising chief justice R Subhas Reddy and justice V M Pancholi , while hearing a public interest litigation related to the deaths of lions in the past two years, said: “Court has observed that illegal lion shows, wherein chickens were fed to the cats.., could also be the cause for infection.”
Amicus curiae (friend of the court) Hemang Shah said the court had asked the state government to implement measures to prevent lion deaths in Gir sanctuary. According to information shared by the state government in the assembly, 184 lions have died in two years due to drowning in wells, electrocution or after being hit by trains.
The Supreme Court made the observations while hearing a petition related to re-location of cheetahs from Namibia to India. Advocate Ritwick Dutta drew the court’s attention to the lion deaths while opposing the plea to relocate the cheetahs.
Dutta said that if there was any kind of virus infection, the entire lion population of Gir would be wiped out and claimed that the manner in which the lions had died caused concern of an epidemic spreading to other animals.
“What are you doing on the issue of lions? It is very serious,” justice Lokur said after hearing Dutta. At present, there are 523 Asiatic lions in Gir.
Nadkarni informed the court that the lions cannot be moved outside Gir until the area where they need to be relocated is ready.
At this, the bench asked him to find out the cause of the deaths.
“What if the epidemic spreads further,” justice Lokur said, giving time to Nadakarni to submit his response.
Gir National Park and Sanctuary, located in the Saurashtra peninsula, is the last abode of the Asiatic lion.