Asiatic lion or Indian lion are only found in the wilderness of Gujarat besides Africa.
This majestic species has been declared endangered by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) a long time ago.
In a survey conducted in 1995, it was declared that Gir housed only 304 lions at that time, which was a shockingly low count. Gujarat was then advised to take some robust measures to prevent the fast disappearance of this species. Hence, the Gir wildlife century was established in the same year.
The area for the preservation of this big cat has only been expanding since then. Currently, there are Five Protected Areas(PA) fully functioning to accommodate the lions including Gir Sanctuary, Gir National Park, Girnar Sanctuary, Pania Sanctuary, and Mitiyala Sanctuary.
Since then, the census has seen a steady rise in the lion’s population which was pegged at 523 in 2015.
But this is still lesser than a record high of 650 Asiatic Lions Gujarat reported during the previous years.
Up until now the state’s tremendous efforts to preserve and protect the lion’s survival have undoubtedly borne fruits.
But is that enough? Does that mean we can close our eyes and go back to our life, thinking all is hail and hearty in the dense forests of Gujarat?
Environmentalists beg to differ!
Despite a steady growth in the numbers, the environmentalists and forest activists have been worried about the entire lion population being huddled in Gujarat only. The primary cause of worry being any unforeseen epidemic or natural calamity that might occur to wipe out the entire species.
The concerns have been raised multiple times to relocate some of the healthy lions to different parts of the country, should any such thing happens.
Supreme court had ordered the ministry of environment to shift some of Asiatic lions to Kuno palpur wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. But so far no actions whatsoever have been taken in this regards.
Are the predictions coming true? Is the species in danger of being wiped out?
Only a couple of days back the state forest department has confirmed a total of 21 deaths of Asiatic lions over a period of less than one month. That kind of deadly phenomenon has never occurred before in a single segment, as per the conservationist, Bhushan Pandya.
The first lot was found dead between September 12th to September 19th, where 11 lions died. It was reported that the primary reason for the deaths was not an infection but injuries sustained during the territorial fights between the lions. Respiratory and hepatic failures were among other causes.
However, the scarier revelation is that out of those 11 lions, four were infected with Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), a deadly virus that gets spread through dogs.
It is a point of major concern because this virus was the main cause of a mass wipe-out of nearly a 1000 lions from Tanzania Serengeti Reserve in the year 1994.
Is anything being done to prevent the disease from spreading further?
The forest department, after the deaths of 11 lions, immediately rescued around 10 lions from Sarasiya Vidi and kept them at Jasadhar animal care centre in the observation. On 2nd October, it was declared that all the rescued lions succumbed to their deaths one after another between 20th to 30th September.
The Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF), Dushyant Vasavada further informed that they sent the blood samples from rescued lions and dead lions to National Institute of Virology (NIV) for further examinations. The reports from NIV suggest viral infection in four lions.
Furthermore, the research facility of a veterinary college of Junagadh has detected the presence of Protozoa, which is caused by ticks spread through dogs in six other lions.
The good news is, that the infection is contained within a small belt as of now. But how long before it starts to push boundaries and spread among other felines?
As of now, 31 lions from Semardi forest area adjoining Sarasiya Vidi have been rescued and sent to Jamawal Rescue Centre. They have been been quarantined and kept under observation. It is being speculated that all the cases of infection have been contained in the small area of Sarasiya Vidi. The 31 rescued lions are all healthy as per the last report.
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The state government is also importing some vaccines as a preventive measure. But there is no further info whether they have begun the vaccination or not. Since the infection spreads fast, it needs to be curtailed with equally fast pace.
Are we doing enough to prevent the extinction of this endangered species?
As per the Junagadh CCF, so far the following measures are being taken after the death of 11 lions:
Around 140 teams of 550 foresters, guards and lion trackers are sweeping the area within 3000 square kilo meters. The liver and kidney functions and blood samples are being examined for any infections. Out of spotted 600 lions, nine lions have been reported sick so far. Adequate measures are being taken with that respect.
As of now, the death ratio seems to be concentrated in one particular area. Yet the conservationists have shown concerns over so many deaths from a single pocket.
This sort of situation has risen because the entire lion population has been kept holed up within a limited circumference. Should a deadly virus as CDV spreads, it might threaten the entire population within that circumference.
Besides a lion-human conflict, there are other problems faced by this threatened species. Like genetic disorder, viral infections, and unnatural deaths.
As a preventive measure, lions shouldn’t be concentrated in one area as it is against the international laws as well.
Also, sanctuaries shouldn’t become a playground for tourists and a money ball for the government to throw around. It is the home of lions and they should be left in peace.
More vaccines need to be imported or developed to keep them safe from such deadly viruses.