Etawah lion safari roars back to life from the edge of oblivion
The Etawah lion safari in Uttar Pradesh which was tottering on the brink of oblivion after the death of nine lions and cubs due to canine distemper between 2014 and 2016 has made a roaring comeback.
The lion safari has now become a breeding centre of lions with lioness Jessica giving birth to four more cubs on June 27. This is the third time in three years that Jessica has given cubs to the safari — two in 2016 and one in 2018.
The safari now has six lions, two lionesses and four cubs.
Besides five cubs which died of canine distemper in 2015, two pairs - Vishnu and Lakshmi (2014) and Tapasya and Kuber (2016) also succumbed to the disease.
Canine distemper is a viral disease that affects a wide variety of animals. It affects several body systems including gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts and the spinal cord and brain, with common symptoms like high fever, eye inflammation and eye/nose discharge and coughing. Mortality varies greatly among animal species.
Etawah lion safari park was the dream project of then chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and had even figured in political slogans during 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Akhilesh traded barbs with then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi saying that he had caged the lions from Gir (Gujarat) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would be also caged.
To this, Modi had shot back, “They asked for lions from Gir. We thought they will do some good for the state. But they cannot handle them.”
Director of lion safari VK Singh said the turnaround became possible due to an intensified sanitation drive in and outside the safari area.
“We implemented the recommendations of the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) and experts of Longleat Safari and Adventure Park, Wiltshire London, USA and Austria,” he said.
Director of Longleat safari and adventure park Jonathan Cracknell had visited the Etawah safari along with the experts of IVRI.
The experts had advised veterinarians Dr RK Singh, Dr UC Srivastava and Dr Nasir that they should adopt six-pronged hygiene strategy to protect lions against the deadly canine distemper disease.
“In the first step, the team of veterinarians got all the lions vaccinated with the most effective vaccine available at that time in USA. This was for the first time that such a costly vaccine was imported from the US to treat the lions,” Singh said.
He added under the “frontier vaccination” drive, stray dogs outside the safari area were also vaccinated to make them disease-resistant. “This was done to create a buffer zone to avoid infection transmitted to safari inmates,” Singh said.
“The dead lions were burnt and all things like syringes, thermometers and mats were either sterilised or removed to check the breeding of deadly bacteria. The upper layer of the ground in safari was removed and lime was sprayed deep into the land area. To keep the safari free from bacterial infection, the system of ‘Footbath’ and ‘Tyre Bath’ was introduced,” Singh said.
In footbath system, dry lime is spread over a long stretch from the entry point so that by the time visitors reach areas close to big cats, their shoes are free of bacteria.
“Similarly, for ‘tyre bath’ a long shallow passage was created from entry points of vehicles. The shallow area was filled with water mixed with potassium permanganate to disinfect car tyres,” Singh said.
The director said using ‘blue torching’ (lighting fire over the boundary area), the possibility of the presence of any bacteria was eliminated and the safari was been made completely safe for lions.
“These steps helped in checking the virus of canine distemper to reach lions and turned the safari into a breeding centre for lions,” said Singh.
The lion safari is being managed from the interest accruing from the corpus of Rs 80 crore created by the state government. The safari has submitted a proposal to the state government for the grant of annual budget.
The safari spreads in 350 hectares of land and has 80 government employees and 36 outsourced employees.