'Barda Dungar within reach of outbreak'
The Times Of India
AHMEDABAD: The state government feels that a new home for Asiatic lions outside Gir limits – Barda Dungar in Porbandar district – 80km from Gir may help save the last of the Asiatic lions in the world. But one of the world's leading lion conservation experts, Dr Craig Packer has cautioned that the Barda Dungar sanctuary will be "within reach of an active outbreak of canine distemper virus (CDV)."
Packer was quick to recall the Serengeti (1994) and Ngorongoro Crater (2001) CDV-Babesia outbreaks among African lions in Tanzania. He said, "We had outbreaks in the Ngorongoro Crater (75km from our Serengeti study area) within a year or so of most Serengeti outbreaks. So the greater the distance, the better!" Packer told TOI.
Dr Packer was part of a team of scientists involved in mitigating the CDV outbreak in the African lion populations at the Serengeti sanctuary (1994) and the Ngorongoro Crater (2001) in Tanzania. In fact, it was Dr Packer's research that found that "high levels of Babesia infection (spread by ticks) were a necessary co-factor in causing extensive lion mortality, and this parasite was most abundant during drought years in Tanzania." A similar situation exists in Gir today.
In an interview to journal Bioscience, Dr Packer explained that the CDV-Babesia outbreak in Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater took place when a dry spell was over and rains fell causing Babesia-carrying ticks to flourish.
They infested Cape buffalo that were by then starved for food; the herbivores couldn't find enough vegetation during the drought. When the babesiosis-infected buffalo died, lions fed on their carcasses, leading to babesiosis in lions already exposed to CDV. "CDV or babesiosis alone aren't threats to lions," Packer added explaining that it was the combination of CDV with a high level of exposure to Babesia that killed more than 1,000 lions in 1994 and 2001 in Africa.
Packer also warned that while the Serengeti population returned to full numbers within only four years of the outbreak, the Ngorongoro lion population took longer to recover, probably because of its history of close inbreeding. "I would expect the Gir population to largely survive the current crisis, although its long history of close inbreeding may make it more vulnerable to the current epidemic," said Packer.