21 Asiatic lions dead in Gujarat's Gir forest, deadly virus attack suspected

A deadly virus attack is suspected as a reason behind the death of lions.

21 Asiatic lions dead in Gujarat's Gir forest, deadly virus attack suspected

AHMEDABAD: The number of Asiatic lions which have succumbed due to a deadly virus attack in Gujarat's Gir forest area has risen to 21. The mysterious deaths of lions in Gujarat’s Gir forest has sent a shockwave in Asia’s only abode of wild cats. 

The state authorities have attributed the deaths to infighting and viral infection.

The sudden death of wild cats has prompted the state authorities to bring in experts from Veterinary Research Institute, Bareilly and the National Zoo, Delhi.

According to the state forest department, 11 lions died between September 12 to 19 in Gir’s Dalkhania and Jasadhar range. Out of those 11 deaths, the carcass of seven lions was found in the forest areas while four lions died during treatment.

Between September 20 to 30, 10 more lions which were rescued from Dalkhania range died during the treatment, taking the total toll to 21, making it the worst tragedy in Gir forest.

The state government while confirming the death of 21 lions said some of them died due to a virus attack.

The government officials, however, said that they are yet to identify the type of virus responsible for the deaths of some big cats in the only abode of Asiatic lions in the world.

According to officials, virus presence was found in at least four lions while six big cats were found to be infected with Protozoa Infection, spread by ticks.

Among the 21 lions, seven were captured from the Dalkhania Range of Gir forest between September 20 and 30 and kept at a rescue centre.

The Forest department had launched the screening operation in the Dalkhania range to identify sick lions following the death of 11 big cats in Dalkhania and nearby Jashadhar range between September 12 and 19.

During the operation, three more lions were found died taking the toll to 14.

The Forest department on Monday revealed that the actual death toll has reached 21.

Presence of a virus, which was not identified yet, was found in the blood as well as tissue samples of rescued as well as dead lions, it said in a release.

The samples were analysed by the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune.

"The death toll now stands at 21, as seven more lions who were rescued from Gir forest have died while undergoing treatment at a rescue centre. Though the presence of virus was also found, it will take some more time to identify the exact type of virus," said Chief Conservator of Forest, Junagadh Wildlife Circle, D T Vasavada.

An analysis of the blood and tissue samples of dead and rescued lions by the Junagadh Veterinary College and the Forensic Science Laboratory has confirmed that six lions fell sick due to 'Protozoa Infection', spread by ticks, as per the release.

At present, 31 lions, rescued from Semardi area in Dalkhania range during the screening drive, have been kept under observation at the rescue centre. All these lions appear to be fine and do not show any sign of infection, it said.

Teams comprising experts from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), Delhi Zoo and Lion Safari project in Uttar Pradesh have been roped in for conducting health check-up of lions, collecting samples and preparing and analysing reports, as per the release.

The state government has taken several precautionary steps to prevent the deaths of the wild cats.

As a precautionary measure, the government has decided to bring some specialised medicines and vaccines from the US, the release said.

During the ongoing screening drive to identify and rescue all the sick and injured lions in the forest, the department has found that the lion population has now gone up to 600, much higher than 523 lions counted in the last census of 2015. 

(With Agency inputs)