ICMR rings alarm bells as 21 Gir lions test CDV+ve

ICMR rings alarm bells as 21 Gir lions test CDV+ve

Forest guard Rashila Ben holds a lion cub inside an animal hospital located in the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Sasan. Reuters file photo

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Tuesday warned the government on “active disease transmission” among Gir lions and suggested shifting the healthy beasts to a new site for safekeeping.

The alert comes after the ICMR tested samples from 27 sick lions and found 21 of them infected with Canine Distemper Virus (CDV).

A total of 80 samples of nasal, ocular and rectal swabs from the sick lions that are undergoing treatment at Sakkarbaug Zoo, Junagadh was sent last week to the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, for testing.

“One or more samples from 21 out of 27 Gir lions have tested positive for CDV. This indicates active disease transmission among Gir lions,” ICMR, the parent council for NIV, said in a statement.

In the past, CDV had wiped out 30% of the total lion population in Serengeti forest areas in East Africa.

“Since CDV is transmitted by airborne route as well as infected body secretions, healthy lions from Gir forest may be shifted to an alternate suitable location,” said ICMR.

Also, the lions should be immediately vaccinated with the available vaccine for CDV. At present, most of the available vaccines have been used in a number of countries and found to be effective. India has imported 300 shots of CDV vaccine from the USA, which are being used.

For close to two decades, wildlife scientists proposed an alternate site for the Asiatic lions to reduce the risk of the animals being wiped out by a contagious disease. The proposal received support from the Union government as well as from the courts. The site was prepared at the dry deciduous jungles of Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.

But Gujarat under its then Chief Minister Narendra Modi steadfastly opposed the proposal and refused to shift the big cats to another state as the pride of lions was considered a symbol of pride for the western state.