Thursday, May 23, 2013

Deadly virus threatening Gir lions

Deadly virus threatening Gir lions
Times of India

A deadly virus that wiped out a significant number of wild lions in the African Serengeti in mid 1990s is now threatening Gir â€" home to India's only population of lions.

Scientists in India recently found Pestes des Petits Ruminants Virus (PPRV) to be behind the death of a lion in Gir â€" the first such incident ever.

PPRV is the same virus that in 1994 killed 1,000 lions â€" one-third of the Serengeti population.

Alarmed, Britain's Royal Veterinary College is now teaming up with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to see if the virus has spread to the native lion population.
Dr Richard Kock, one of the world's foremost experts on wildlife health at RVC told TOI "The Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) that killed the lions in Tanzania is the same as PPRV. It is known to be a plague virus and can cause high mortality among lions. It was surprising to find it in Gir. The lions in India are a small vulnerable population and widespread infection with such a virus can kill at least 40% of the Gir lions."

Dr Kock will work with Dr YV Jhala from WII and experts from the Pirbright Institute (PI) and the Veterinary Type Culture Collection Centre (VTCC) in Haryana. The team, with years of experience with wild cats, will confirm or dispute the finding of possible infection of PPRV in Gir forest lion, determine the extent of infection if any, confirm the multi-host transmission pathways for PPRV in Gir and undertake a full risk analysis of PPRV and distemper.

Dr Kock and his team will visit Gir in September.

He told TOI, "We will collect blood samples of lions to check for antibodies against PPRV. If serological evidence for PPRV and distemper virus infection in Gir Forest region is detected, a disease search would be initiated and virus isolation attempted from affected species. A system for reporting any unusual clinical signs in lions and any mortality will be set up. Where possible have carcasses examined by a trained veterinarian in wildlife health. The protocol for dead lion should include full necropsy." The team has already finalised the protocol for live immobilised lion and says it would include normal biological measurements, whole body clinical examination and whole blood test.

According to Dr Kock, the virus isolated from the dead lion in Gir last year was genetically characterised to the strain circulating in Indian livestock.

"The presence of this virus antigen in a lion is the first indication that infection might occur in this species. It is mainly found in dogs. Evidence has been collected showing climate change is causing an increased tick cycle and viral circulation," Dr Kock added.

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