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Gir’s 21 lion deaths in 19 days

Published: 16th Oct, 2018

Gir’s 21 lion deaths in 19 days

21 lions reportedly died between September and October in Gir forest of Gujarat.


  • 21 lions reportedly died between September and October in Gir forest of Gujarat.
  • The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has confirmed that the Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) and tick-borne Babesiosis were responsible for the deaths.



  • CDV causes a highly contagious and life-threatening disease in dogs (50% fatality rate).
  • It infects the spinal cord and brain and also the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.
  • It is transmitted by airborne route as well as infected body secretions.
  • It affects different wild carnivores such as wolves, foxes, raccoons, red pandas, ferrets, hyenas, tigers, and lions.
  • In the past, CDV had wiped out 30% of the total population of lions in Serengeti forest areas in East Africa.
  • In the current case, the genetic sequence of the virus was compared to available CDV sequences and was found to be related to the East African strains.

Status of CDV in India:

  • The prevalence of this virus and its diversity in wildlife of India has not been studied.
  • Only a few reports are available regarding the detection of CDV in captive wild carnivores which included tigers and red pandas.
  • A report in 2016 from Etawah, Uttar Pradesh about CDV infection was confirmed by the Indian Veterinary Research Institute.
  • There dogs were considered to be the primary source of infection and virus transmission.

Gir forest:

  • Gir is the only natural habitat of world popular Asiatic Lions.
  • Besides Africa, Gir National Park in Gujarat is the only place in the world where lions can be spotted roaming freely in the wild.
  • In order to conserve the Asiatic Lion, the Government notified the large geographical extent of SasanGir as wildlife sanctuary on in 1965.
  • From a population of approximately 20 lions in 1913, they have risen to a comfortable 523 according to 2015 census.


Way forward

According to wildlife experts, every year, it is normal for 80-90 lions to die in Gujarat. But, lack of immediate actions during virus spread can soon turn epidemic.

  • As virus is airborne, ICMR has recommended animals to be placed in 2-3 different sanctuaries.
  • ICMR has also recommended that the remaining lions be vaccinated to prevent further outbreaks.But, this goes against recommendations by wildlife biologists that wild animals shouldn’t be vaccinated. As helpful as vaccinations could be in the controlling the spread, they are likely to compromise their immunity against future infections as these are wild animals and not ones in a zoo.
  • The ICMR-NIV is yet to determine if the vaccine, currently available to treat CDV, matched the strain of the virus circulating in the lions.This matching determines the efficacy of the vaccine.

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