The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed concern over the death of lions in Gir forest of Gujarat and questioned the Centre and the state government.
The apex court said it is an extremely serious issue and the government must find out the reason for the deaths of the lions and the animals must be protected.
Replying to the SC, the Centre sought time to look into the matter and come back with a reply. The Gujarat government also assured that all necessary action will be taken soon.
At least 23 lions have died in the last 18 days in Gir Sanctuary since September 12, an official said.
Eleven lions had died in the forest due to reasons such as infighting and infections between September 12 and 19, while 10 more died between September 20 and 30 after they were shifted to a rescue centre.
Earlier on Tuesday, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani termed the deaths as "very unfortunate". "It was a very unfortunate incident. 20-22 lions inhibiting in one forest range have died due to infection. To make sure that other lions are alright, we have called in doctors from Delhi and Pune to examine them," said Rupani in Porbandar. "We are also probing whether the officers who have the responsibility of that range have shown carelessness," he said.
The forest department had said on Monday that four of the dead lions were found to have a virus infection, while another six were infected with a Protozoa-class organism carried by ticks. All these lions lived in Sarasiya area of the Dalkhania range of Gir Sanctury, officials said.
The department launched a screening operation in the range to identify sick lions following the death of 11 lions between September 11 and 19. However, 12 sick lions, which were caught and shifted to a rescue centre, have died since then.
The virus found in the carcasses of these animals has not yet been idenitifed, as per the officials.