Not Only News Service: Asiatic lions have now died in the last 20 days at the Gir National Park in Gujarat, forest authorities said this week. The 21 lions constitute 3.5 per cent of the around 600 lions currently believed to be present in Gir.
The deaths of lions in Gujarat have been in focus since mid-September when forest officials first revealed that 11 lions had died between September 12 and September 19.
The death toll later went up to 14 and has now reached 21 after seven big cats died during treatment. Of the 21 lions who died, seven were found dead in the wild while the remaining 14 died under treatment.
Along with updating the death toll, the Gujarat Forest Department also revealed that some of the lions had died due to a mystery virus infection.
Examination of blood samples sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune has revealed at least four of the lions died to a viral infection, the Forest Department said. Around 10 other lions died due infections spread by tick bites.
The revelation that four of the 21 Gir lions died due to a virus infection is significant as up until now the Forest Department had mostly blamed infighting for the unusual string of deaths. The Forest Department did not name the virus nor has it completely discounted its earlier infighting theory.
However, the Gujarat government, as an emergency measure, has requisitioned special medication from the United States of America to combat the viral infection. The government has also sought help from wildlife experts across the country.
The confirmation that a virus killed at least four lions at the Gir sanctuary also comes amid worries of an outbreak of the canine distemper virus (CDV). CDV is a deadly, contagious viral disease seen among a number of wild as well as domestic animals.
In 1994, CDV decimated the lion population of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, killing nearly 1000 lions.
Meanwhile, the Gujarat Forest Department is keeping a hawk-like vigil on the Gir forest’s lions. In the last days, more than 500 officials spread across 140 teams have covered an area of around 3,000 sq. km in order to identify sick lions and transport them to medical centres.
The forest-wide search has led to authorities discovering that the population of lions in the Gir sanctuary has gone up. A 2015 census had put the number of lions in Gir at 523. Now, the Forest Department says, there are around 600 Asiatic lions at the Gir National Park. (Courtesy: indiatoday.in)