Saturday, January 26, 2019

Central team probing death of 11 Asiatic lions in Gir


Central team probing death of 11 Asiatic lions in Gir

The Pioneer

A Central Government team of wildlife experts has flown in to the last abode of endangered Asiatic Lions – Gir Forest - situated in western Gujarat to probe the deaths of 11 big cats in a span of just eight days.

Though the state forest department is claiming the death as natural, wildlife lovers and environmentalists are expressing doubts over the death of lions. According to top forest officials in the state, the lions died due to infighting and territorial war.

"The Central team belonging to the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment has already initiated probe. They are examining autopsy reports of the dead animals and also questioning forest beat guards as well as people residing near Dalkhania and Jashadhar ranges of Gir forest where the lions died," said sources close to the development.

According to sources in the state forest department, in fact the state government took the incidences of lions' death extremely seriously and decided to take assistance of central government experts to curb any such causality of Asiatic lions in future. The report of central team would decide to further course of investigation, said the sources adding that the report of expert would make it clear the cause of death was due to poison, some diseases or because of infighting as claimed by the state forest officials.

It is worth mentioning that Gujarat is steadfastly dragging its feet even after a Supreme Court order to hand over a few lions to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh for an alternative home for  this epidemic prone species.

Due to heavy inbreeding, the lions Gir forest and surrounding areas are very susceptible to infection at one end and epidemic at the other. So many deaths in such a short span of time rang alarm bells and needed to be thoroughly probed, opined a retired IFS official from Gujarat forest department. The state forest department carries out a lion census every five years. The 2005 survey counted 359 lions while the number grew to 411 in 2010.The latest census in 2015 found 523 lions, 109 of which were male, 201 female, 140 cubs and 73 sub-adults.

Teams Formed For Lion Rescue In Gujarat After Carcasses Of Big Cats Found


Teams Formed For Lion Rescue In Gujarat After Carcasses Of Big Cats Found


Ahmedabad: The Gujarat Forest department has formed 64 teams to screen and shift sick lions to rescue centres after carcasses of 11 big cats were found the state's Gir forest, a senior official said on Sunday.

The carcasses of 11 lions, including cubs, were found between September 11 and 19. Nine of those were recovered from Dalkhaniya range and two from the Jashadhar range of Gir forest.

A team comprising top officials and experts from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NCTA) and Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII), probing the death since arriving on Saturday, has stated in its preliminary report that the deaths were mainly due to infighting, and infection caused by resultant injuries.

Additional Chief Secretary (Forest) Rajiv Gupta told reporters Sunday in Junagadh that viscera samples of the 11 lion carcasses had been sent to Pune-based National Institute of Virology (NIV) to find out the exact cause of death.

"After analysing the reports from NIV, we will devise a long-term strategy to save lions" he said, adding the Central team had concluded that the deaths were not due to "unnatural" causes, such as intentional poisoning by humans.

He informed reporters that NTCA-WII team would remain in the state for a few more days to thoroughly probe the case.

Mr Gupta said 64 teams, having 270 personnel, had been formed to screen lions in Gir forest.

"Each team has a forester, two beat guards and one tracker. Veterinary doctors will assist these teams in identifying and rescuing sick lions and treat them at our rescue centres. We have also planned to vaccinate cattle near Gir area" the additional chief secretary (forest) said.

He said these teams would work under the supervision of Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF), Wildlife, Akshay Saxena.

The state government had on Friday claimed that three lion cubs were killed by a male lion to establish dominance and two lionesses and an adult lion died from respiratory and hepatic (relating to the liver) failure.

The post-mortem reports of five other lions, including two cubs and one lioness, were awaited, the forest department had said on Friday.

According to a 2015 census, Gir is home to 523 lions, including 109 male, 201 female, 73 sub-adults and 140 cubs.

64 teams formed to scan lions in Gir for any illness


64 teams formed to scan lions in Gir for any illness

The Indian Express

Days after the death of 11 Asiatic lions, the state Forest Department on Sunday formed 64 teams to screen the entire population of the endangered species in Gir forest and other protected areas to identify any sick big cat and give them medical treatment. The samples of the dead carnivores have also been sent to Pune's National Institute of Virology to ascertain if any virus caused the death.

"Each of the 64 teams comprise a forester, two beat guards and a lion tracker. These teams will carry out the exercise under the supervision of respective range forest officers. A total 270 guards and officers have been assigned the task. In fact, teams in Dalkhaniya range have already started screening the big cats from today," Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) G K Sinha told mediapersons in Junagadh on Sunday.

"The teams will observe the lions and if found ill, they will be given medical treatment. To ensure that sick animals get medical treatment on time, three teams of veterinary experts have also been formed. Each team will have a veterinary expert and a veterinary assistant," Sinha added.

READ| 11 lions found dead in Gir forest in 10 days, Gujarat government orders probe

The development comes three days after it came to light that 11 lions had died in the last fortnight in Dalkhaniya and Jasadhar ranges of Gir (east) forest division in Amreli district. Forest officers have prima facie concluded that the death of six cubs, three adult lionesses and two adult male lions were natural as they were triggered by an infighting or fight between male lions to take over a pride and its territory. They say that the cubs died due to injuries they had sustained during the fight while lionesses caught infection as they retreated to bushes and went hungry following the fight.

Officers said that joint director of wildlife in the Union environment ministry, assistant inspector general of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and a project scientist from Wildlife Institute of India (WII) had arrived in Gujarat on the request of the state government. While the joint director of wildlife and assistant director general made field visits of Gir (east) forest on Saturday, another team led by the WII scientist made the field visit on Sunday. "After primary discussion with field staff, the experts also have primarily opined that the deaths were caused due to infighting," a release from Chief Conservator of Forests (Junagadh wildlife circle) stated.

The quinquennial lion census of 2015 had pegged the population of Asiatic lions to 523.

Meanwhile, the experts suggested continuous monitoring of the movement of lions, vaccination of cattle living on the periphery of Gir forest among others. The PCCF said that further course of action will be decided based on findings of the laboratory tests of the dead animals' samples.

All Indian States Must Include Animals In Disaster Plans To Save Communities


All Indian States Must Include Animals In Disaster Plans To Save Communities


Today, to mark International Day for Disaster Reduction, World Animal Protection is urging the central government and all the state governments to ensure that efforts to reduce disaster risk include animal protection are in place.

India has been leading the way by integrating animals in the national disaster management policy, plans and as well as in the search and rescue operations.

Today we urge the Government of India to set up a Veterinary Emergency Fund for effective implementation of these initiatives.

Animal health, welfare and protection has massive implications for community nutrition, food security and agricultural output. 2.5 billion people around the world are small-scale farmers, herders, pastoralists, fishers or are forest-dependent - all of them rely on animals for their livelihoods. 18 of the poorest countries are reliant on livestock.

READ | ''Death Of Lions In Gir Forest Extremely Serious Situation, Protect Them'' Says Supreme Court

Animal-dependent communities are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters; many of the countries with the highest densities of livestock keepers are also those with high multi-hazard ratings. A comprehensive study of 78 post-disaster needs assessments, covering 48 developing countries, found that crop and livestock losses amounted to more than USD 24 billion.

World Animal Protection deploys teams around the world when disasters hit - most recently to Sulawesi, Indonesia, following the tsunami just a couple of weeks ago.

World Animal Protection recently responded to the Kerala floods in India by providing cattle feed and mineral mixture in the flood-affected areas of Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Ernakulam and Thrissur districts along with the Department of Animal Husbandry, Government of Kerala and the Indian Red Cross Society - Kerala State Branch. This flood relief operation for animals has directly benefitted 34852 animals and the livelihood of 12504 households.

Target C of the Sendai Framework, an international agreement adopted by UN member states with the aim of reducing disaster risk globally, is the focus of this year's International Day for Disaster Reduction. It centres on reducing disaster economic losses in relation to global GDP by 2030.

"To successfully reduce disaster economic losses, the protection of animals must be taken more seriously. We have seen economies and communities suffer from a lack of preparedness. It is essential that animal-inclusive disaster risk reduction strategies are adopted," added Gajender.

READ | Sidharth Malhotra Celebrates World Animal Day; Asks Everyone To Participate In Animal Welfare

Hurt pride: How a disease and administrative apathy have imperilled Gir’s lions


Hurt pride: How a disease and administrative apathy have imperilled Gir's lions

The Hindu

On an ordinary day, the Jamvala rescue centre, in the heart of Gujarat's Gir National Park, surrounded by teak trees and herds of spotted deer, receives only the odd injured wild animal. But today there is a frenzy of activity — officials from the forest department and vets from the Delhi Zoo and from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Bareilly have converged here to observe and test four wild lions for a deadly disease that is ravaging the park's prides.

Visitors are strictly barred, so I can only catch a fleeting glimpse of the felines from a distance, through a mesh. They look lethargic. "I just took a blood sample from one cat for a test," a forest official tells me. "It appeared very sick, out of energy." I am told they are not eating very much either. Among these are the last three surviving lions of a pride from the Dalkhania range: between September 12 and October 1, 23 lions from this pride died, at least five of them from the canine distemper virus (CDV) and babesiosis, a parasitic disease transmitted by ticks.

The fourth lion at Jamvala has been brought in from a range close to Dalkhania for observation; and another 33, from surrounding ranges, are being similarly observed at the Jasadhar rescue centre a few kilometres away.

The anxiety is palpable. This is the biggest death toll among Gir lions from disease in recorded history. But conservationists are concerned for another reason. This outbreak could have a more far-reaching consequence: Gir's estimated 600 lions are the world's last remaining population of Asiatic lions; so a threat to this sole wild population means a threat to the survival of an entire species.

Scrambling for solutions

But under equal scrutiny of the scientific community has been the Gujarat government's handling of the crisis. When the first 10 lions died in the middle of September, the government attributed it to territorial fights. But by October 1, when the death toll more than doubled and made national and international headlines, the State government — which often prides itself for bringing back the Asiatic lion from the brink of extinction — found itself scrambling for causes and solutions.

To begin with, 36 lions were rounded up from the vicinity of Dalkhania and taken to the two rescue centres. Swab samples from the cats were sent to the veterinary college in Junagadh, the National Institute of Virology in Pune, and the Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Bareilly. Experts were approached at London's Royal Veterinary College, and 300 vaccine vials were bought from the U.S.

"We were first told the lions were dying from infighting and other causes. Territorial fights typically kill cubs and adult males, not adult females in one area. Attempts were made to suppress and deny the real cause of death and to distract attention. And now that they have acknowledged the crisis, they are not handling it very scientifically," says Ravi Chellam, a wildlife biologist who has been involved with Asiatic lions since 1985.

For one, taking dozens of wild animals into captivity, forcing them into really close contact when they are potentially infected with the very contagious, airborne virus is "going to do nothing less than aid the spread of the disease," points out Chellam. Then, there have been reports that some of the rescue centres are overcrowded: Jasadhar, where 33 lions are being kept, has the capacity to handle only around five cats at any given time.

Just not prepared

The outbreak also exposed the ill-preparedness of the Gujarat authorities in dealing with a crisis of this magnitude. "Nowhere in Gir do we have the facility to treat a dozen cats simultaneously. We have no trained personnel or even the necessary medicines or vaccines," says a beat guard who doesn't want to be named.

For several years now, not a single forest officer from Gir has been sent to the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun, for the nine-month course in wildlife management.

"As a forest officer, one should easily be able to identify symptoms of disease during patrolling. I would be able to detect a disease in an animal just from the way it is coughing," says a senior forest official Anil Johri. However, in the case of the Gir tragedy, forest officials and guards were unable to spot the outbreak until the decomposed carcasses of seven lions were found in Dalkhania.

CDV, a highly contagious and airborne disease, is characterised by high fever, coughing and an inflammation of the eyes and nose. The virus has in the past infected several wild animals across the world: coyotes, foxes and pandas. And, most significantly, in 1994, it wiped out a third of the lions in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park. A study has shown that a 'co-infection' such as babesiosis played a role in this mass mortality. The study of the Serengeti deaths, published in the scientific journal Plos One in 2008, finds that CDV mass deaths can be triggered by climate extremes, such as droughts, and widespread herbivore die-offs.

Dogs are considered a primary reservoir host for CDV and they could have transmitted the disease either directly or via an intermediate carrier, such as jackals or hyenas, for instance, says Abi T. Vanak, an animal ecologist with Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, who has studied the transmission of CDV from feral dogs to foxes around Maharashtra's Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary.

"It could have spread through a shared carcass. Then, a secondary tick-borne disease could have eventually proven deadly. But there does not appear to be any systematic monitoring of this in Gir." With a population of just 600, "what we really need is constant scientific surveillance, and over a long period of time. But we don't seem to have the capacity for systematicwildlife disease monitoring," says Vanak.

Formidable threats

The last major tragedy to strike Gir lions was in 2007 when eight cats were killed by poachers in two separate incidents.

There is no doubt much to celebrate about Gujarat's lion conservation success story. The Asiatic lion once roamed a huge geographical swathe, from present-day Iraq to eastern India. By the early 20th century, hunting pushed them to near extinction, and the few that remained were restricted to Gir. This area happened to be protected by the Nawab of Junagadh, who controlled hunting and the population revived. Their numbers jumped again from 411 in 2010 to 523 in 2015. Now, the big cats are found across 8,000 square miles, in eight districts of Gujarat, both within and outside protected areas — in cities such as Rajula or Kodinar and in the farmlands of Amreli district.

But Gir's lions face formidable new threats today. Being clustered in one region makes them vulnerable to extinction in the case of a disease outbreak. For this very reason, the Supreme Court in 2013 had ordered that some lions be shifted to Madhya Pradesh as an alternative home. The judgment said this was not about the Asiatic lion being 'the pride of a State' but about the preservation of an endangered species. Five years later, there has still been no compliance.

Pride apart, there is gross apathy, which has ushered in unregulated tourism and mining in the habitat. In 2016, the Gujarat government recommended the reduction of the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) in Gir from 10 km around the protected areas to just 500 metres. Following a public interest litigation, the High Court thankfully stayed the proposal.

Shown to the lions

Officials say the government is under intense pressure from the tourism lobby. "Two dozen hotels and resorts have sprung up near Gir national park, while some farmhouses have also come up recently," says a local forest guard.

There is a huge influx of tourists and, to feed their hunger to see a carnivore, there are now patently illegal, paid 'lion shows' — organised in and around the protected area. A few months ago, a video surfaced of a lioness being baited with a chicken as a group of tourists looks on. In another video, irritated lions are seen walking away, abandoning their kill as raucous tourists shout and whistle. After the clips went viral, seven persons including four tourists were arrested. Locals have been known to organise illegal 'lion safaris' around the park.

To add to Gir's woes, in March this year the National Board for Wildlife permitted limestone mining in 417.35 hectares just 6.25 km from the park.

"What you are seeing now was only expected. The authorities invited this upon the lions," says a forest officer who I meet at the Jamvala rescue centre. The State government showed its "utter disregard for lions in particular and wildlife in general," he says, when in May this year it abruptly transferred Deputy Conservator of Forest, Sasan Gir Ram Ratan Nala, who had refused to permit the desilting of the Singhoda dam inside the national park as part of an initiative launched by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani to deepen water bodies before the monsoon. Nala had also refused to permit a religious function at a temple in the forest that the Chief Minister was to visit.

Ironically, after the deaths, Nala has now been brought back to asssist the Chief Wildlife Warden and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests.

As this goes to press, 23 lions have died and another 21 have been found to be infected. The government has, however, denied that more animals have been infected. The Chief Minister has said the situation in Gir "is under control", that "the lions are completely safe in the forest" , and that "they will not be relocated." Meanwhile, the Indian Council of Medical Research has recommended that the "healthy lions from Gir Forest be shifted to an alternate suitable location."

Chellam, however, says, "Much as I am in favour of part of the lion population being translocated, this is not the best time. We have a crisis on hand. What we need to focus on is investigating the source of the outbreak, because without that we will not be able to contain it."

Irrespective of the source, the forest department should ring-vaccinate all domestic dogs in and around Gir to provide a buffer of immune animals and reduce the possible sources of CDV, he says. "Vaccinating 600 wild lions is not feasible, and it makes little sense to vaccinate those that have already been exposed to CDV."

The government, says Chellam, must get the scientific community together and give them access and freedom to do their work. "And yes, we must eventually look to implementing the Supreme Court judgment about translocating the Asiatic lions to establish an additional free-ranging population — we cannot afford to put all our eggs in one basket any more."



How Modi, Rupani want Gujarat to be exclusive abode of Asiatic lions


How Modi, Rupani want Gujarat to be exclusive abode of Asiatic lions

The Week

Economists are zoophobes, though they talk of animal spirits, as Manmohan Singh did while unleashing market reforms in 1992. Till the 1980s they knew only about bulls and bears; in the 1990s they learnt about Asian tigers, and then the Indian elephant.

They took note of the lion, which had been more deeply embedded in our cultural psyche than the bull, the bear, the tiger or the elephant, only after Narendra Modi began his reign with an MGM roar. Just like Asoka of Ahimsa got a lion capital on his Sarnath pole as the pillar of kingly dharma and Pax Mauryana, Modi got a greasy gear-and-spanner Gir lion as the mascot of his economic programme.

Modi has pretensions of being India's Henry the Lion, the duke of Saxony who tamed lions and slew dragons. But the Congress thinks that in four years he has become like England's Henry II, the Lion in Winter. Especially so, after his mane and name have been singed in the Rafale's afterburner.

The full-maned Asiatic lions, which have been prospering and procreating in Gir, are owner's pride and neighbour's envy to Gujaratis. Their state looks like a lion-head on the map, though the jealous scoff at it as a Lion's Club logo. The tiger may be the national animal, but Gujaratis are proud of being the exclusive hosts to the lion, the king of the jungle and by far a nobler beast.

Modi partakes of that pride. As chief minister he had resisted a Supreme Court order to shift a few of the Gir cats to Kuno-Palpur in Madhya Pradesh. The court was worried that if all the 600 stayed together on one turf, they would all be wiped out in a flood or a plague.

The fears seem to be coming true. The gamekeepers of Gir report that lions are dying at the rate of one a day due to protozoa infections and a canine distemper virus which had killed a third of East Africa's lions a few years ago. This has caused a hue and cry for shifting a few cats to safer zones, but Chief Minister Vijay Rupani would hear none of that.

Green dragons elsewhere may make a hue and cry, or a mew and roar, but for once Modi and Rupani are getting support from even Congressmen in Gujarat. Look at what arch foe Ahmed Patel has written to Modi—get more vets, build more lion dens and pull down tourist dens, enlarge Gir's buffer by 10km, and launch a Project Tiger-like programme. Not a word about lending or sending a few cats to MP.

Not without reason. Project Tiger may have been a roaring success, but with 50 tiger parks spread across India, the tiger has become another cat in the touristy wilderness, phone-shot by every selfie-taking teenager.

On the contrary, the lion, distant yet dignified, has always kept his aristocratic exclusivity. He was coveted, much more than the tiger, in royal and noble iconographies across cultures. Asoka had his four lions on his dharmic pillar, free India got them as its coat of arms. Thrones were called sinhasans; martial Rajputs called themselves Singhs; and the warrior-Guru Gobind urged his men to be Singhs.

Europe never had a lion from the Urals to the English Channel and beyond, yet several European royal and noble heraldries had the lion on their coats of arms. The English called their crusader-king a Lionheart; their royal coat of arms has been sporting three lions since 900 years; and Lady Britannia has one crouching beside her. The Jews have their Lions of Judah, a concept as old as the Book of Genesis. Closer home, Singapore derives its name from the lion, as do the Sinhalas.

The tiger was feared; the lion was coveted and revered.

Unclaimed kingdom


Unclaimed kingdom

India Today

What happens when misplaced parochial pride comes in the way of saving an almost extinct species? The plan to set up a second home for Asiatic lions was first mooted during a conference in Vadodara in 1993. A quarter of a century later, nothing has happened on the ground. Soon after the 1993 conference, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, conducted comprehensive studies at Darrah and Sitamata sanctuaries in Rajasthan and Palpur-Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, before zeroing in on the latter. In 1997, the MP government began moving out villages within Palpur-Kuno. By 2001, 1,546 families from the 24 villages inhabited by the Sahariya scheduled tribe community had been moved out, creating an inviolate area of 1,250 sq. km in the form of the Kuno Wildlife Division in anticipation of the arrival of the lions.

However, Gujarat refused to share the lions, obfuscating the issue with numerous objections. Finally, in April 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that a few lions be shifted to Palpur-Kuno and the exercise be completed in six months. The Union ministry for environment and forests (MoEF) was asked to oversee the task and set up an expert committee for the purpose. Now, five-and-a-half years later, all that the MoEF has to show is an expert committee with members from the WII, NGOs and wildlife wings of Gujarat and MP.

More litigation followed after the 2013 verdict. The Gujarat government filed review and curative petitions, both of which were dismissed by the court.

WII experts have suggested moving 8-10 lions in the first batch to Palpur-Kuno and augmenting it with four lions every four years based on a review of the first translocation. Gujarat's objection to the transfer of lions on grounds that Kuno is unsafe sounds all the more baseless in light of the fact that 184 lions have died in the state -- as stated in the Gujarat assembly -- in the past two years due to electrocution, drowning and train hits.

So why haven't the lions been shifted? Gujarat's stand is clear, but MP's pursuance of the project at the political level has been half-hearted at best. CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan is on record questioning why his state is so keen to get lions when it is already blessed with tigers. At state wildlife board meetings, the CM's extreme disinterest is evident.

The CM's pusillanimous attitude seems to do with his boss Prime Minister Narendra Modi's stand on the issue: that he would fight tooth and nail to not share lions with MP. More than five years after the SC order, the MP government has not gone to the court citing contempt. It was left to a private citizen to do so. In 2014, MP-based wildlife activist Ajay Dubey filed a contempt petition that was finally disposed of in March 2018 after the MoEF told the court the process of implementing the court's order was in progress. "I will move a contempt petition again," says Dubey. "The Centre needs to stop thinking like the government of Gujarat and think as the government of India. The lion is a national heritage, narrow parochialism is the biggest threat it faces."

The biggest impediment now is the MoEF, which in many instances has supported the delaying tactics of Gujarat. "Gujarat wants a number of studies done before translocation, and some of these studies will take 20 years to do. These are nothing but delaying tactics," says Dr Y.V. Jhala of the WII.

Wildlife authorities in MP sound helpless. "Lion translocation is a central project. We have upgraded Kuno from a sanctuary to a national park. It is up to the MoEF to get the lions from Gujarat," says chief wildlife warden, MP, Shahbaz Ahmed.

Moving lions to Barda Sanctuary not enough: Experts


Moving lions to Barda Sanctuary not enough: Experts


The Gujarat government's move to shift lions to Barda Dungar Sanctuary may not be enough. Even the ICMR-NIV in a release had stated that healthy lions need to be moved out of Gujarat. The ICMR-NIV advisory came after it found that one or more samples of 21 of the 27 lions had tested positive for canine distemper. All the 80 samples of ocular, nasal and rectal swabs collected from 27 lions that were ill and under observation, were sent to ICMR -NIV.

Apparently, it is what lion translocation experts had been warning the government about for long. "Expediting the process to create the Barda Dungar Sanctuary is welcome. But that will not end the problem. This is because dogs are everywhere, and they are the carrier of canine distemper virus. Once the lions are infected, it is an imperative to keep the affected population far away," said an expert, a renowned wildlife biologist, who had been part of the group that studied the translocation of Gir lions.

He said it is an imperative that the lions be moved to Kuno Palpur. "All the concerns that were raised against translocation had been addressed. Though this time the virus was limited to one range only, there is no guarantee it would be so the next time also. This is why even the SC had ordered translocation of lions to prevent the species from disappearing in case of a disease outbreak. Moving them to Barda will not be enough," said the expert.

He said even Gujarat forest department officials agree that lions need to be moved out but few have the guts to tell the state and centre that.

DT Vasavada, Chief Conservator of Forest, Wildlife Circle, Junagadh, said that he had read about the media reports about the ICMR-NIV statements. "But as far as translocation is concerned, Gujarat has not taken any decision. The matter is still pending in the Supreme Court," he said.

On the ICMR-NIV reports, he said he had so far not got the reports and hence cannot comment on it.


Expediting the process to create the Barda Dungar Sanctuary is welcome. But that will not end the problem. This is because dogs are everywhere, and they are the carrier of canine distemper virus. Once infected, it is an imperative to keep the affected population away.

Shift big cats to save Gir pride from deadly virus, Centre advised


Shift big cats to save Gir pride from deadly virus, Centre advised

The Pioneer

The virus that killed 30 per cent of total lion population in East Africa was also responsible for the death of five out of the 23 Asiatic lions in Gujarat's Gir forest since September 12, the Government's top research body has warned and advised the Centre to immediately take steps to save the big cats by shifting them to different sanctuaries.

The scientists from the Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Virology (NIV) in their report have said that Canine Distemper Virus(CDV), associated with the dogs, was responsible for the death of five Asiatic lions in the Gir forest.

The ICMR, which is the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, has also suggested that 300 shots of CDV vaccine are imported from the United States. The report has been submitted to the Union Environment Ministry for further action.

Around 23 Asiatic lions have died in Gujarat's Gir forest since September 12, prompting the government to launch a massive operations to ensure that the infection does not spread to other big cats in their only abode in Asia. According to a 2015 census, Gir is home to 523 lions, including 109 male, 201 female, 73 sub-adults and 140 cubs.

"ICMR-NIV, based in Pune, found CDV responsible for the death of five Asiatic lions in Gir forest, Gujarat. As such for the first time a complete genome of CDV was recovered by NIV," a statement from ICMR said. "The sequence was compared to available CDV sequences and it was found to be related to the East African strains. The scientists of ICMR-NIV have also recommended existing CDV vaccine which should work as a protective intervention for Gir lions," it said.

CDV causes a highly contagious and life-threatening disease in dogs and also affects wild carnivores such as wolves, foxes, raccoons, red pandas, ferrets, hyenas, tigers, and lions. A wildlife expert said that there are lots of domestic dogs living in human communities around the Gir forest, and probably they shared the infected kill. The prevalence of this virus and its diversity in wildlife of India is not studied and only a few reports are available regarding the detection of CDV in captive wild carnivores which included tigers and red panda.

The research body said a 2016 report of CDV infection Etawah, Uttar Pradesh, was confirmed by Indian Veterinary Research Institute where dogs were considered to be the primary source of infection and virus transmission.

"In the past, CDV wiped out 30 per cent of the total population of lions in Serengeti forest areas in East Africa. Considering the threat posed by CDV to the lives of this endangered species, ICMR has requested the Government of India to take immediate steps to save these Asiatic lions, which are heading towards extinction.

"As a precautionary measure, 300 shots of CDV vaccine are imported from the US for the lions. ICMR has also recommended that to avoid extinction of the lions, the animals should be placed in two to three different sanctuaries," the statement said.

The condition of three of over 36 lions, currently under observation of the forest department in Gujarat, is critical.

There has been regular demand for shifting the Gir lions to other suitable habitats to ensure their genetic survival.  In fact, in 2016, a 18-member Supreme Court led committee, led by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) additional director general Bisen Singh Bonal has said that Palpur-Kuno Sanctuary in Sheopur district is "ideally suited" for relocation of Gir lions.

Fly to lion’s abode Gir this winter


Fly to lion's abode Gir this winter

The Times Of India

RAJKOT: This winter, tourists can actually take the aerial route to reach Asiatic lions' kingdom Gir or even the famous Somnath temple.

After 18 years, the airport of Keshod town in Junagadh district will become operational with Trujet small flight brand of Hyderabad-based Turbo Megha Airways beginning commercial operations.

Keshod airport, founded by Junagadh's last ruler Nawab Mahabatkhanji III for his personal use, had become dysfunctional after the only carrier Jet Airways had ceased operations in 2000. Jet operated a 42-seater aircraft to Mumbai.

Keshod airport director S K Saran told TOI: "Truejet will start commercial scheduled operation from November 15 between Keshod and Ahmedabad. We have made this airport operational under Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS)." The operator is planning to start 72-seater aircraft.

Sasan Gir, the abode of Asiatic lions which witnesses heavy rush of tourist in winters, is around 32 km from Keshod. At present, tourists from outside Gujarat, who avoiding the eight-hour road travel from Ahmedabad to Gir, have to take flights to either Rajkot or Diu.

Saran said that Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) approval to start operations of commercial flights is expected within a week. A team of Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) along with other agencies will visit the airport on October 14 to review the security situation.

After the 9/11 attacks in the US, Keshod airport also had to be developed as per the new security norms that came into effect. There was only visitor room before 2000, whose area has now been doubled. The arrival and departure wings have also been segregated. The X-ray baggage scanning machines have been installed along with the requisite number of CCTV cameras.

The airport authority also planning install TVs for entertainment of the passengers and a food court. "We also had to develop the runway as per the requirement of 72-seater aircraft, for which we had to remove some obstruction near the airport area to make the path clear for take-off and landing." Saran said.


Rajkot: According to the information on Airport Authority of India (AAI) website, Keshod airport is spread over in area of 460 acres and built Mahabat Khanji, the last ruling Nawab of Junagadh, sometime between 1944 to 1947. The Nawab had fled from this airport to Pakistan by his own aircraft when small princely states in independent India were being unified.

Vaccine from US delivered to Junagadh lions deaths: Govt deputes two forest officers


Vaccine from US delivered to Junagadh lions deaths: Govt deputes two forest officers

The Indian Express

The state government on Friday deputed two forest officers who had previously served in the Gir forest to assist in the efforts of the local officers in Gir to tackle the situation arising out of deaths of 23 Asiatic lions in as many days. Meanwhile, vaccine imported from the US to contain a suspected attack of virus among lions reached Junagadh and forest officers said they would administer it to the big cats if warranted.

The state government asked Anshuman Sharma, deputy conservator of forests (DCF) of Godhra division, and Ram Ratan Nala, DCF in the publicity and liaison division in the state forest department in Gandhinagar to assist the local forest officers in Junagadh wildlife circle to mitigate situation arising out of deaths of 23 lions between September 12 and October 2.

"Sharma has previously served in Gir (east) division while Nala is a veterinarian by training. State government felt that they can help in tackling the situation. Being a veterinarian, Nala is supervising treatment being given to Asiatic lions at rescue centres while Sharma will also be of help as the deaths have occurred in Gir (east) forest division," Dushyant Vasavada, chief conservator of forests of Junagadh wildlife, circle told The Indian Express.

Sharma had served as DCF of Gir (east) division for around six years until his transfer around two years ago. On the other hand, Nala had served as assistant conservator and DCF in Gir (west) division as well as DCF of Sasan wildlife division and sanctuary superintendent at Gir National Park and Sanctuary in Sasan. He was transferred to Gandhinagar a few months ago.

The deaths of Asiatic lions have been reported from Sarasiya Vidi in Gir (east) forest in Amreli district. Laboratory tests have confirmed that four of the 23 lions had been infected by the dreaded canine distemper virus (CDV) while 10 others had been infected Babesia protozoa, an infection spread by tick parasite. After the deaths came to light, Akshay Saxena, principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) and chief wildlife warden of the state as well as Shyamal Tikardarm additional PCCF in wildlife division in the state forest department have been camping in Junagadh and monitoring the situation.

After the sudden and mysterious deaths of lions in Sarasiya Vidi, forest department had rescued 31 lions from adjoining Shemardi area and shifted them to rescue centre in Jamwala in Gir (west) forest division and kept them in isolation as a precautionary measure and to contain spread of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) infection. Two more lions have been rescued from the neighbourig Paniya area also and shifted to rescue centre in Babarkot in Amreli social forestry division. Three other lions rescued from Sarasiya Vidi rare undergoing treatment at Jasadhar rescue centre in Gir (east) division.

Meanwhile, 300 shots of vaccine imported from the US were delivered to forest officers in Junagadh on Friday evening. The vaccine, which gives immunity against a group of viruses, including the CDV, will be administered to the lions under observation if required, the Junagadh CCF said. "The vaccine lot has been delivered but we shall decide on case-to-case basis if it should be administered to lions. As of now, there is no such recommendation. Reports of blood profile of the lions which have been isolated and kept under observation are normal. We are waiting for laboratory reports of their other samples for deciding the next course of action," said Vasavada.

Junagadh wildlife circle comprises Gir (east), Gir (west), Sasan and Bhavnagar divisions spread over Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts in Saurashtra region of Gujarat.

After the sudden deaths of Asiatic lions, an endangered species whose only wild population in the world is surviving in Gir forest and other protected areas, experts from Delhi Zoo, Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Bareilly, Safari Park, Itawa and Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun had visited Gir forest and rescue centres, and made their suggestions to tackle the situation. The CCF said that the teams were in Gir till Tuesday. The state government has requested help from London Zoo and Royal Veterinary College, London also.

Meanwhile, the CCF quashed allegations levelled by Congress leaders of negligence on the part of forest officers and state government as the cause of deaths of the lions.

Gir lions will not be relocated, situation under control: Gujarat CM Rupani


Gir lions will not be relocated, situation under control: Gujarat CM Rupani

The Economic Express

AHMEDABAD: Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani said Sunday lions in the Gir forest were safe and they would not be relocated.

Earlier in the day, the Forest Department started the vaccination of lions in the Gir sanctuary to protect them from a deadly virus blamed for the death of some of the big cats.

As many as 23 lions have died in the sanctuary in less than a month. Most of them have succumbed to canine distemper virus (CDV) and protozoa infections, forest officials had said.

"The situation in Gir is under control and the lions are completely safe in the forest. The state government is sensitive and committed towards the conservation of lions in the state, and lions will not be relocated," Rupani told reporters at Bilkha in Junagadh district where the Gir forest is located.

The lions, an endangered species, are being vaccinated under intensive veterinary care and as per standard protocol, officials said Sunday.

CDV is considered a dangerous virus and it was blamed for wiping out 30 per cent population of African lions in East African forests.

"Vaccination of segregated #Lions under intensive veterinary care as per standard protocol started. Top national & international lion experts have been consulted. Government undertaking utmost care for lion safety," said the chief conservator of forest, Wildlife Junagadh, an official Twitter handle of the Junagadh district Forest Department.

Rupani said the government had involved world-class experts to tackle the situation and control the spread of the deadly virus in the lions, adding their blood reports were negative.

The chief minister further said the government is planning to set up of best medical facilities to treat the lions.

A senior government official in Gandhinagar said only those lions which are in the Forest Department's captivity are being vaccinated at present.

Following the death of big cats, the department had captured 36 lions and shifted them to Jashadhar and Jamwala rescue centres in the Gir forest as a precautionary measure.

After the CDV spread was confirmed in Asiatic lions, the state government had urgently imported 300 shots of the vaccine against the virus from the US.

CDV is mainly found in wild dogs, jackals and wolves. The disease can be contracted by lions if they eat any animal infected by it.

CDV is a highly contagious disease that attacks the immune system and other vital organs in animals. In most of the cases, the infection is fatal.

The Forest Department officials also said the lions that were segregated for screening were doing fine, and no further death was reported.

The Supreme Court had in April 2013 constituted a committee to oversee transfer of lions from Gujarat to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh's Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary, but no action has been taken in this direction.

The recent deaths of lions in the Gir forest has once again given rise to the demand for translocation of the big cats to ensure their safety.

According to the last census conducted in 2015, the number of lions in the Gir sanctuary stood at 523.

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