21 lions die in Gir forests in less than 3 weeks, virus infection confirmed
National

21 lions die in Gir forests in less than 3 weeks, virus infection confirmed

Amreli/Gandhinagar, Oct 1: The Forest department of Gujarat, after a seemingly futile attempt to cover-up the death of Gir lions due to a suspected outbreak of some infectious disease in a particular range of Gir, the sole abode of Asiatic lions in the world, has finally confirmed the deaths of total 21 lions.

In a statement issued on Monday evening, the Forest department said that after the death of 11 lions between September 12 to 19 at Dalkhaniya range in the eastern Gir forest of Amreli district, another 10 rescued from the same range had died between September 20 to 30 during treatment, post rescue.

It also said that the report from National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune has confirmed presence of viruses in the bodies of four dead lions and protozoa caused infections in another 10. Around 31 lions rescued from the Dalkhaniya range have been kept in isolation at Jamwala animal care center. Study about the reports of other lions would be done.

Help of experts, including three from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute of Bareilly in UP, five from Delhi Zoo and two from Lion Safari in Etawah in UP is being taken in this regard. For precautionary measures, vaccines for lions from the US have also been ordered.

The statement also claimed that around 600 lions have been tracked during the September 23 to 29, while lion screening campaign was going on in around 3000 sq km area of Gir forests.The sudden revelation of death of so many lions by the Forest department, after its initial attempts to show it as a petty issue, has also raised questions about the functioning of the department.

The mysterious part is that for so many days, there was no clarity on part of the department, as to exactly how many lions were under treatment, exactly how many were tracked and the exact reasons of death of some of the big cats.

Another startling thing was that there were no regular updates for the past three days about the so-called large-scale screening exercise of lions across and beyond Gir forests, spread across three districts of Amreli, Gir Somnath and Junagadh and as greater, Gir even touching parts of Bhavnagar.

It was also not clear as to how many lions were actually tracked during the exercise, started since September 23.The number of lions per the last five yearly census of lions in May 2015 was 523, 27 per cent higher than that of the last one of 2010 (411).

During the hurriedly-convened press conference on September 21, after the reports about deaths of around a dozen lions in just one range came, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) and Head of Forestry Force (HOFF) of Gujarat G K Sinha had claimed that the deaths of big cats were mostly due to in-fight and despite such things, the number of lions in Gir was seeing a rise, with an annual growth rate of at least five per cent.

By that reckoning, the number of lions in Gir should be at least 15 per cent up from that of May 2015 in number terms, which should be 75 to 80 up. This way, it should be over 600 by now.

But during the so-called screening exercise, as per the statement of Gujarat Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava after his visit to Dalkhaniya range of Gir forests on September 29, only around 500 lions were tracked. On Monday, the Forest department put this number to 600, in its statement. The Minister had said that around 3000 sq km area has been covered by 100 teams of over 500 forest personnel (Gir has only around 1800 sq km area).