The lions in India’s Gir sanctuary are dying due to a “mystery illness”

The lions in India’s Gir sanctuary are dying due to a “mystery illness”

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The Asiatic lion was once known to roam all over south Asia and northern Africa. However, as a result of territorial encroachment and being hunted, it’s become an extremely endangered species.

There’s only place left in the world to find them: the Gir Forest National Park in the Indian state of Gujarat. As per a census in 2015, there were only about 523 lions alive in the sanctuary.

However, that number is probably a lot lower now. This could be due to a mysterious infection plaguing the lions in the sanctuary. Since 12 September, around 23 lions have died and an additional 36 are said to be under observation for symptoms of this disease.

The deaths, which were initially attributed to infighting, have sparked fears of an epidemic that could wipe out most of the lion population in the park as well as other animals. As a result, on 3 October, India’s Supreme Court asked the central government to investigate the matter.

Canine-distemper virus?

 After examining the blood and tissue samples of four dead lions, officials in the state government of Gujarat said that the disease could be canine distemper virus (CDV). Although it originates in dogs and members of the dog family, CDV can also be found in a variety of wild cats and primates.

It affects the nervous and respiratory systems of animals and usually spreads through the air or through the sharing of food. While it may not have caused the deaths, it could have reduced the immunity of lions and made them vulnerable to other diseases. CDV was known to have killed nearly 1000 lions in Tanzania two decades ago.

After examining an additional seven lions, the Gujarati government also found the presence of of babesia protozoal infection, a disease that spread through ticks which can lead to death when left untreated.

 Gir lions are extremely susceptible to contagious diseases, given that they live closely to one another due to lack of space in the sanctuary. They also come into contact with feral dogs in the vicinity of the park, which could have led to the spread of CDV.

As things stand, the government is said to have ordered the import of hundreds of CDV vaccines from the US. If the deaths persist, the lions could even be shifted to the forests of Madhya Pradesh. The Supreme Court has scheduled a follow-up hearing on the matter at the end of the month.