'Impossible to vaccinate all 500 lions in Gir,' says senior Gujarat official; forest department unsure what killed 23 big cats

Gujarat Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Akshay Kumar Saxena, debunks reports that all 500 lions in Gir National Park will be vaccinated, says 'It is not humanly possible to round up 500-plus wild lions and vaccinate them.'

Ajay Suri October 07, 2018 15:29:08 IST

Sasan Gir: Even as the forest department of Gujarat struggles to find the exact reason behind the death of 23 lions in Gir National Park, it has initiated the process of vaccinating some of the captive lions.

Akshay Kumar Saxena, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Gujarat, debunked reports that all the lions of Gir would be vaccinated against possible infection.

"It is not humanly possible to round up 500-plus wild lions and vaccinate them. Secondly, it is not even needed. The vaccination process which started on Saturday concerns only those captive lions which are there in the rescue centres," Saxena said on Sunday.

Impossible to vaccinate all 500 lions in Gir says senior Gujarat official forest department unsure what killed 23 big cats

Representational image of lions in Gir forest. ANI

The PCCF was referring to the 36 lions which were tranquilised and rounded up from the "immediate vicinity" of the region where 23 lions fell prey to a mysterious disease. It was feared that in the eventuality of the deadly Canine Distemper Virus most likely spreading out, it would first strike the big cats which lived nearest to the affected region. Hence, as a precautionary step, they were isolated in captivity.

These 36 lions — held in three rescue centres at Jambwala, Jasadha and Babarkot inside the national park — are under medical supervision. A team of nine doctors have been keeping an eagle eye on the condition of these lions, taking their blood samples at regular intervals and going for detailed tests — sometimes even thrice a day. And the action is not just limited to Gir. Some of the top Indian institutes such as Wildlife Institute of India (Dehradun, Uttarakhand), National Institute of Virology (Pune, Maharashtra), Indian Veterinary Research Institute (Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh) and Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre (Gandhinagar, Gujarat) have been roped in to provide valuable inputs.

Meanwhile, the ICMR-National Institute of Virology based in Pune found Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) responsible for the death of 5 Asiatic lions in Gir forest, a press statement by the health body said.

On Saturday, the doctors vaccinated the first captive lion (see video), but how many more would be given the shots is still not clear.

"In this regard, we will be following the veterinary protocol," Saxena said.

"It’s the doctors who will decide; and I believe they would base their assessment on the report of lions’ blood samples and any warning signs among the big cats. But let me say that the process of vaccination (of the captive lions) has started and will proceed to its logical conclusion."

A number of theories as to the probable cause behind the death of the 23 lions in the Gir National Park have been making the rounds, both among the forest staff as well as lion experts. One such hypothesis suggest that the affected lions succumbed to a fatal infection after consuming contaminated meat (in fact, a few days before the lions started dying, a partly-eaten carcass of a buffalo was found from a nearby area in Dalkhania range of the park).

Saxena, as well as DT Vasavada, the Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife Circle), Junagarh, agree it could be a crucial piece of evidence and they were definitely looking into it.

The PCCF said that they were back-checking on all possible leads, including this contaminated buffalo theory.

"At times, the lions of Gir National Park do move out of the forest and eat outside food. It’s like a human kid going out of home and you don’t know whether he or she has eaten meal from McDonalds or a road-side dhaba," he added.

Incidentally, the video of a captive lion being vaccinated is the first documentation released to the media — a full one week after the nightmarish scope of the tragedy started trickling out in the public domain. Therefore, one just cannot shrug off the feeling that this might be a case of closing the stable after the horse has bolted away.

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