The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology (NIV) on Friday said they have found that the virus which wiped out 30 per cent of total lion population in East Africa, was responsible for the death of five out of the 23 Asiatic lions in Gujarat’s Gir forest since September 12.
The ICMR, the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, has found that Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) was responsible for the death of five Asiatic lions in Gir forest and asked the Centre to take immediate steps to save the big cats, including shifting them to different sanctuaries.
It has also suggested that 300 shots of CDV vaccine are imported from the United States.
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.
“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.
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. The state government has sought national as well as international help in saving the lions.