A deadly epidemic may be wiping out the world’s last few Asiatic lions.
In the past one month alone, at least 23 of the big cats have died in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park in the western Indian state of Gujarat. These deaths include those of three cubs and three adult females.
Initially, forest officials suspected some of these deaths to have occurred in a territorial battle. “This is a natural course of action among lions,” Gir forest official GK Sinha had said. Three adult male lions from another area entered the forest in September and killed the cubs in an incident of infighting, Sinha had said.
However, tests conducted at the Indian Council of Medical Research’s National Institute of Virology, Pune, have officially confirmed the presence of the deadly canine distemper virus (CDV) in at least four of the tissue samples extracted from the carcasses.
“CDV is extremely infective (sic). In Serengeti (national park in Tanzania) it killed a 1,000 lions in three weeks. Such epidemics are like natural catastrophes that come without any forewarning. Translocation is good for lion conservation and one has to only follow the supreme court’s order to implement it,” Ravi Chellam, a conservation scientist, told the Mint newspaper.
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