4 of 23 lions in Gir died due to suspected viral disease
The Gujarat government on Tuesday said canine distemper may have been responsible for the death of four lions even as two more deaths were reported in Gir, taking the death toll to 23 since September 12.
“While advance reports from various laboratories are awaited, in four cases, canine distemper virus is suspected to be the cause,’’ said forest minister Ganpat Vasava. Canine distemper is a viral disease that impacts a large number of wild animals including cats and dogs. The two lions that died on Tuesday were shifted from Semerdi in Dalkhania range in the eastern part of Gir to Jasapar rescue centre after 11 lions from the same area died between September 12 and 19.
The forest department said at the time of announcing the 11 deaths that infighting and infection were responsible for the deaths. Between September 20 and 30, another 10 lions died while receiving treatment.
The minister said one of the lions might have caught the virus and infected others in the same area. “We have isolated all lions from Semerdi area. A survey in all the others parts of Gir, including the national park and Gir West, has been done and they (lions) are clean and safe,’’ said the chief conservator of forest, Jungadh wildlife division Dushyant Vasavada.
According to forest department officials, all the lions lost were in Gir East, a neglected region in this last adobe of Asiatic Lions. The other two divisions of Gir are Gir West and the National Park; the latter two are the preferred destination of tourists and national and international big cat experts.
“Sasan is the headquarters of Gir forest and it has the national park so it is in the focus and closely monitored. Five lakh tourists who annually come for safari go to Sasan and Devaliya Interpretation Zone that are over 50 km away from Dalkhaniya range where all the causalities have happened ,” said Bhika Jethava, president of the Lion Nature Foundation, an NGO working for conservation of the big cats. Razak Bloch, president of the Gujarat State Save Environment Committee, agreed and said : “It often takes a day or two for the rescue team to respond to any distress call given by locals in connection with lion injury or death in the eastern region.” Jethava said the forest department acknowledged a carcass of a lioness in the eastern part 24 hours after they were informed on September 24.
Chief minister Vijay Rupani termed the deaths “unfortunate” and said action would be taken if negligence on part of the department was found. “With the help of experts the treatment of lions is being done,” he said.
The Dalkhania range, where the deaths have happened, is the most open space of the lion habitat with the least congestion. Of the 523 lions in Gir, only 80 are in the Dalkhania range.
(With inputs from HTC, New Delhi)