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After death of 23 lions in Gir reserve, concerns about virus that killed 1,000 Tanzania lions

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Ahmedabad, Oct 2: As many as 23 lions have died in Gujarat's Gir forest since September 12, sending shockwaves through the only abode of Asiatic lions in the world.

Playful Asiatic Lions. PTI file photo

Government authorities have attributed the deaths to infighting and viral infection, prompting the State to bring in experts from Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Bareilly, and Delhi zoo.

Gir Lion deaths: Is it time to find a second home for Asiatic lions?Gir Lion deaths: Is it time to find a second home for Asiatic lions?

According to the State forest department, 11 lions died between September 12 and 19 in Gir's Dalkhania and Jasadhar range. Of those 11 lions, carcasses of seven were found in the forest area, while four died during treatment.

Mystery fever blamed

Examination of blood samples sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune has revealed at least four of the lions died to a viral infection, the Forest Department said. Around 10 other lions died due infections spread by tick bites.

The revelation that four of the 21 Gir lions died due to a virus infection is significant as up until now the Forest Department had mostly blamed infighting for the unusual string of deaths. The Forest Department did not name the virus nor has it completely discounted its earlier infighting theory.

11 lions found dead in Gir forest in 10 days, forest officials suspect infighting11 lions found dead in Gir forest in 10 days, forest officials suspect infighting

However, the Gujarat government, as an emergency measure, has requisitioned special medication from the United States of America to combat the viral infection. The government has also sought help from wildlife experts across the country.

The confirmation that a virus killed at least four lions at the Gir sanctuary also comes amid worries of an outbreak of the canine distemper virus (CDV). CDV is a deadly, contagious viral disease seen among a number of wild as well as domestic animals.

Concerns over Tanzania virus

In 1994, an outbreak of CDV - which can spread from dogs in the wild - killed around 1,000 lions in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park.

While six of the latest 10 deaths were from a parasitic infection caused by ticks, the four CDV deaths have prompted authorities to run further tests on the 11 lions that died last month, according to D.T. Vasavada, Gujarat's chief conservator of forests told AFP.

"A team of experts is working to ascertain the reason for the viral infection. Since all 21 lions have died in one Sarasiya grassland, it is a matter of concern," Vasavada added.

Local officials said another 31 lions from the same part of the sanctuary are being kept under medical observation, though they have not shown any signs of illness so far.

According to the last count in 2015, there were 521 Asiatic lions in the Gir sanctuary, which is spread over 1,400 square kilometres (850 square miles).

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