Gir lions died by virus that killed 30% East African lions; 300 vaccines imported from US

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology (NIV) on Friday identified the virus which caused the death of 23 lions in Gir Sanctuary. 

Gir lions died by virus that killed 30% East African lions; 300 vaccines imported from US

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology (NIV) on Friday identified the virus which caused the death of 23 lions in Gir Sanctuary. 

ICMR claimed that the same virus had wiped out 30 per cent of total lion population in East Africa. Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) was responsible for the death of five Asiatic lions in Gir sanctuary.

The ICMR, the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, asked the Centre to take immediate steps to save the big cats, including shifting them to different sanctuaries.

"ICMR-NIV, based in Pune, found CDV responsible for the death of five Asiatic lions in Gir forest, Gujarat. As such for the first time a complete genome of CDV was recovered by NIV," a statement from ICMR said.

"The sequence was compared to available CDV sequences and it was found to be related to the East African strains. The scientists of ICMR-NIV have also recommended existing CDV vaccine which should work as a protective intervention for Gir lions," it said.

On ICMR's suggestions, 300 shots of CDV vaccines were imported from the US on Friday. 

Additional Chief Secretary of the Forest Department Rajiv Kumar Gupta confirmed the news of vaccines reaching the sanctuary. However, the officials will take a call on immunisation of lions after analysing reports. 

"The consignment has just reached Gir. We will take a call on vaccinating lions in the coming days after analysing various reports," Gupta said.

The 36 lions which were shifted to rescue centres from the forest as a precautionary measure are "doing well" and "stable", he added.

Around 23 Asiatic lions have died in Gujarat's Gir forest since September 12, prompting the government to launch a massive operations to ensure that the infection does not spread to other big cats in their only abode in Asia.

Director of Sakkarbaug Zoo, J S Rana, who collected the consignment at Rajkot aiport Friday, said the vaccine has proved effective in other countries and it offers protection against CDV for one year.

Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had on Thursday said that lions contracted a "contagious disease" after eating "contaminated food".

Leader of Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly Paresh Dhanani alleged Friday that there could be a conspiracy behind the lions' deaths for "political gains".

As per the latest estimate of the forest officials, Gir Sanctuary has around 600 lions.

(With PTI Inputs)

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