Reports on Gir lion deaths taken off medical site?
The haze surrounding the deaths of Asiatic lions in Gir sanctuary has become thicker with the disappearance of two important reports from the website of the Indian Council of Medical Research. The country's apex bio-medical research body had conducted tests on samples of 27 big cats, which showed 21of them positive for Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), a virus that wiped out 30 per cent of the total lion population in East Africa. The reports -- one detailing the tests and another confirming CDV -- both have been taken down from public domain.
ICMR officials claimed, "names of scientists were being corrected". Since this does not take time, the move raises questions about the lack of transparency regarding the death of lions at Gir.
After 23 lions died between September 12 and October 2, Gujarat government had sent samples of nasal, ocular and rectal swabs from 27 captive lions under observation at Sakkarbaug Zoo in Junagadh to ICMR.
.ICMR established that the lions died of viral infection and posted the report on October 5. The report not only carried suggestions on how to save the lions by stopping the virus from spreading, it also advised placing the big cats in 2-3 separate sanctuaries to prevents its extinction.
Later, on October 9, ICMR issued another report based on 80 samples collected from the 27 lions. This report revealed that 21 of the lions were CDV-infected. This report was posted on the website, too. However, ICMR officials did not pass the critical information to the Ministry of Forest and Wildlife or the Gujarat forest department. Forest officials of Gir learnt about the report more than 24 hours after it was published, raising questions about the way the issue of lion deaths was being handled.
Interestingly, both reports have been removed from the website now.
Dr Raman Gangakhedkar, national director and head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at ICMR, told Mirror, "The reports were not supposed to carry my name, so we removed it." Interestingly, other reports available on the website carry the name of the concerned scientists or department heads.
Environmentalist Rajan Joshi questioned the lack of transparency and said, "Why hide the reports? The government does not want to let the lions move elsewhere? The second report had also suggested that CDV is transmitted through air and bodily secretions so healthy lions could be shifted to an alternate location to save them. Also, it becomes easier to fudge the data."
Additional Chief Secretary (Forest and Environment) Rajiv Gupta was not reachable despite repeated attempts