AHMEDABAD: The forest department has ordered random tests on Gir lions for detection of possible presence of dangerous viruses, to prevent Madhya Pradesh from using possible outbreak of viral disease in Gir as a reason for shifting some of the big cats to the sanctuary in Kuno Palpur.
The tests will be conducted by the veterinary department and Anand University and their study is likely to be completed before Diwali this year.
It may be mentioned here that a deadly virus had killed a large number of wild lions in the African Serengeti in the mid-1990s. Sources in the forest department said that the bogey of a deadly virus wiping out all the Asiatic lions in Gir is being raised in support of the proposal to transfer some of the lions to a new but hostile habitat in Madhya Pradesh.
A report released this year claims that scientists in India had ‘recently’ found Pestes des Petits Ruminants Virus (PPRV) behind the death of a lion in Gir. PPRV is the same virus that had killed 1,000 lions in Serengeti in 1994. However, this lion had died in 2006, the sources said.
The officials further said that they are not taking the matter lightly and that they are aware that Madhya Pradesh will raise this issue in the apex court. “Hence, we want to be ready with the test report so that it can be produced in court the day MP raises the issue. The state government is also aware that the neighbouring state will try to show as if every lion in Gir was suffering from PPRV and each lion death was caused by the virus,” an official said.
Officials said that they could easily nullify the report on which the MP government is relying, simply by saying that the death took place way back in 2006. “Thereafter the lion census of 2010 had shown that the population of the big cats was increasing. As for the virus, the department can argue that it has not hit the lion population in the last seven years. In fact, the lion population in Gir has increased from 360 to 411 during this period,” said the official.
But the forest department does not want to take any chances. It has asked Anand University and the veterinary department to take up the study of the health of lions. The choice of laboratory for the examination has to be taken by the veterinary department as they are technically qualified to take the decision.
He further said that in case the court orders further investigation, this report would come in very handy. The alarm regarding the threat to Gir lions was raised by Dr Richard Kock of Britain’s Royal Veterinary College.who has been quoted as saying: “The lions in India are a small vulnerable population and widespread infection with such a virus can kill at least 40% of the Gir lions.” Dr Kock plans to visit India in September to conduct tests with the help of Wildlife Institute of India ( WII).