Why are the Asiatic Lions of Gir Dying?

    The Asiatic lions of Gir are among the endangered species which if not taken care of will soon be absent from the landscape of earth. The recent deaths of more than a dozen such lions in Gir is a reminder of the insufficient care by the nation state of a species that adds a lot to India’s natural diversity.

    The New Leam Staff

    An Asiatic lion rests in Gir forest, Gujarat.

    Nearly 21 Asiatic lions died, in Gujarat’s Gir Forest National Park between September 20-30,2018. The lions in the Gir Forest National Park succumbed to death one after the other at Jasadhar Animal Centre in Gujarat. The Lions were infected by Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), which is a lethal virus that spreads from dogs in the wild.

    Gir as a home to Asiatic Lions

    The Asiatic Lions are listed as endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, endangered status is the second most dangerous status on the list provided by IUCN,. The reference to endangered category specifies the status of being in likelihood of extinction under the IUCN schema.

    The Gir Forest National Park is the only home for Asiatic lions since these animals are area occupants in nature and therefore occupy only a specific territory or a region. Asiatic Lions are restricted to the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat where they had become habituated to the environment of Gujarat.

    Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary also known as the Sasan Gir is located in Talala Gir region of Gujrat. Gir Forest National Park and is home to Asiatic Lions since its establishment in 1965. Gir is the only region in Asia which provides and supports a conducive environment for the growth of Asiatic Lion, the National Park is known to protect as well as promote the growth of lions both in India and abroad, the national park is known for its lion breeding programmes where with the help of lion breeding centres; lion counting and procedure of artificial insemination is supported. As per the Lion census 2015, Gir is home to 523 lions showing an increase from the 2010 figure of 411.

    Tragic death of the lions

    The death of 21 lions is a huge loss for the forest and the ecosystem of the Gir since they are on the verge of extinction and their growth is restricted by the virtue of being area occupants in nature. The reason for the death of 11 of the 21 lions was infection caused by Canine Distemper Virus, as preliminary reports from the National Institute of Virology, Pune confirmed the presence of the virus in 4 out of 24 samples tested.

    An official from the Gir forest department revealed that 11 lion deaths were reported between September 11 and September 19, while 10 more big cats died in the next 10 days which means one death daily. Photo: ANI/Twitter

    Canine Distemper Virus causes Canine Distemper disease which affects a wide range of animals like dogs, wolves, lions, tigers is a transferable disease which can get transferred through ticks predating on dogs, it is the same virus which was instrumental in vanishing of a population of nearly 1000 lions in Tanzania’s Serengti reserve in 1994.

    The virus and the spread of the infection has not been studied much in India, there is very little research available on this subject which can help in knowing the reason of their entry in a territory and how the outbreak may be prevented.

    As precautionary step, the forest department has evacuated 31 lions from Semadari area near Sarasiya Vidi and shifted them to Jamwala Rescue Centre. Vaccinations are provided to the existing set of lions to prevent further loss.

    In 2011 the Gujarat’s forest department was forewarned twice about the presence of CDV in Gir lions. The first warning came in September 2011, when the Centre for Animal Disease Research and Diagnosis (CADRAD), Bangalore, and Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), Uttarakhand, analysed tissues from a 2007 Gir lion carcass and found the presence of highly contagious ‘Peste des petits ruminants’ virus (PPRV).

    In 2013 Supreme Court had directed the Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh government to relocate the Lions to Kuna Palpur from Gir, on speculations of their increasing population. Most of the Asiatic lions were living outside their core regions where they became highly susceptible to the virus and hence the tragedy.

    Better late than never

    Now the Gujarat government has decided to shift the animals to Madhya Pradesh and also construct two safari parks in Ahmedabad and Narmada district to accommodate the lions. What the government and forest officials are doing right now was required to be done in the first place as precautionary or a preventive measure.

    India suffers from an attitude of addressing any issue only when it has become extremely grave. This incident points out towards the carelessness of the officials who are handling such important spaces and species, their absolute neglect for simultaneous research is the main issue here which has further aggravated the situation.

    The endangered and rare species tag by IUCN is an important indicator for further protection and nurturing of the species and towards which forest officials and even the state government should show responsibility by not neglecting their habitat and time to time engaging with the activities of the species through research. the death of the lions points out towards the negligence shown by the officials in protecting the species.

    1 COMMENT

    1. Now, it has come out in the report by ICMR that all the 24 samples tested wrrw infected by CDV…… translocation is an important step to ensien no further damage is done….as early it happens …as good it will be.

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