Amid Asiatic lion deaths at Gir forest, special vaccines arrive from US to protect the endangered big cats

The deaths of as many as 23 lions at the Gir forest — believed to have been caused by a deadly combination of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) and a protozoal infection — since 12 September is a crisis looming over the endangered animals.

Ajay Suri and Asif Khan October 04, 2018 20:33:20 IST
Amid Asiatic lion deaths at Gir forest, special vaccines arrive from US to protect the endangered big cats

Junagarh: To protect the world's last remaining Asiatic lions, a vaccine for more than 500 of the big cats in and around the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat have reached India from the United States. Officials of the Forest Department of Gujarat have arrived in Mumbai to get hold of the crucial shots, which are likely to reach Gir by Friday afternoon.

The deaths of as many as 23 lions at the Gir forest — believed to have been caused by a deadly combination of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) and a protozoal infection — since 12 September has the Forest Department worried. It is a crisis looming over the endangered animals.

Amid Asiatic lion deaths at Gir forest special vaccines arrive from US to protect the endangered big cats

Representational image. Reuters

In a parallel development, the Forest Department has also sent an SOS to experts in England. Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife Circle, Junagarh) DT Vasavada said they had contacted experts from the Royal Veterinary College in London and had also invited them to visit the affected places at the Gir Forest National Park.

Vasavada denied the "growing notion" that the lions of Gujarat could well be on the verge of extinction. "The truth is that only a 25-square-kilometre area has been affected by the disease that has killed 23 lions. But the lions are spread out over a large area of the national park, and they are quite safe," he said.

The affected area that Vasavada is referring to falls under the Dalkhaniya range of the Gir forest on the eastern side of the national park. Significantly, a large number of resorts have also been sprouting in this area quite close to the jungle tracks where the big cats of Gir can be spotted regularly.

The big picture becomes clearer if we take into account two near simultaneous events in the Dalkhania range: First, all the 23 dead lions were from this range; and second, to stem the possible spread of the deadly CDV, nearly all the lions from the immediate vicinity of Dalkhania have been tranquilised and shifted to a rescue centre. These captive lions are under the watch of medical experts.

However, it is still unclear how the vaccine imported from the US will be put to use to help the lions at risk. To put things in perspective, not all the lions live inside the national park. The male lion is characteristically a long-distance walker, and it is not unusual for him to cross as many as 50 kilometres in a day. In fact, the irregular, zig-zagging movements of several prides of late has been such that males, females and cubs are often sighted in regions outside the Gir Forest National Park, such as in Sutrapada in Somnath district, Bhavnagar and Junagarah as well as the Savarkundla-Rajula coastal belt.

A number of amateur videos posted online in recent months show such prides of lions walking fearlessly through human settlements quite close to Junagarh city. So maybe it's not the virus that has travelled to the lions — it could be the other way round.

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