Gujarat: 23 Lions Die In One Month; Even After SC Ruling & Experts' Advice On Their Relocation, State Govt Refuses To Relent
On October 2, two more lions were found dead at the Gir forest in Gujarat, reportedly due to an infection. The number of lion deaths in last one month has now reached 23. Just two weeks back carcasses of 11 lions, including those cubs, were found in the Gir forest. It is being suspected that the deaths were caused due to infighting and infection.
Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava told the Hindustan Times, “While advance reports from various laboratories are awaited, in four cases, canine distemper virus is suspected to be the cause.”
Supreme Court has also questioned Gujarat and central governments over the deaths. The bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur called it to be “extremely serious”.
Virus infection behind the lion deaths
Blood samples of the lions were sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune. While the virus was found in four cases, in six other samples sent to Veterinary College in Junagadh, traces of Protozoans which are usually spread by ticks were found on the body of lions, Livemint reported.
Vasava confirmed to Livemint that the canine distemper virus (CVD) which is spread by dogs in the wild, was responsible for four of the 23 deaths. To understand how dangerous this virus actually is, its outbreak in 1994 could be quoted. This deadly virus killed nearly 1000 lions in 1994 in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.
In a step to avoid such deaths in the future, all of the 31 lions in the Samardi area have been rescued and sent to Jamwala Rescue centre. However, officials said that no virus or bacteria was reported from these rescued lions.
Lions need to be relocated: Experts
Fearing that the same fate as that of the Serengeti National Park might await the lions of Gir forest, several experts have opined that it is best to move the lions to other habitats. Ravi Chellam, a conservation scientist told Livemint, “Such epidemics are like natural catastrophes that come without any forewarning. Translocation is good for lion conservation and one has to only follow the Supreme Court’s order to implement it.”
Notably, in 2013, the Supreme Court had ruled that Gujarat needed to relocate some of its lions to Kuno, Madhya Pradesh lest a disease might pose a grave risk to the entire lion population in the area. However, this ruling was not implemented. Climatic condition and possible conflict with the existing tigers in Kuno were given as the reasons. It is also to be noted that in 2009 when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he entered into a public spat with the then environment minister over the relocation of lions. Ramesh, who then said that it was important for genetic stability and health, Modi, however, refused to part with the “pride of Gujarat.”
Rajan Joshi, a wildlife conservationist even wrote to Gujarat Chief Minister last month. He underlined the urgent need for the lions to be relocated.
Gir forest, which is spread across 1,440 square kilometres, is the only abode of Asiatic lions in the world. It showed a 27% increase in lion population (523) in 2015 census as compared to 2010 (411).
The Logical Indian Take
It is a matter of grave concern that with 23 deaths in just a month, more than 4% of the total lion population has been wiped out. Initial tests and investigation point to the deadly CVD as one of the main reasons. As the lion population is increasing every year, their population density has also been on a rise. This has made it much easier for such communicable diseases and infections to pass from one lion to other.
Even after 2013 ruling by SC and persuasion by several experts, the authorities are yet to relocate the lions to alternate locations. The Logical Indian hopes that the concerned authorities take appropriate action at the earliest.