Three years after the deadly virus hit India’s endangered Asian lion in its last remaining natural habitat, conservationists look for a new home to help their fast-growing pride roam freely. I am.
A magnificent large cat, slightly smaller than its African cousin and with skin folds along its belly, was once widely found throughout Southwest Asia.
Hunting and human invasion plunged the population to just 20 by 1913, and lions are currently found only in the wildlife sanctuary of Gujarat in western India.
According to last year’s official census, years of government collaboration have increased the lion population in Gil National Park to nearly 700.
But just three years ago, when a few lions began to die in part of a 1,400-square-kilometer (545-square-mile) forest, the success of conservation seemed at stake.
Canine distemper virus, a highly infectious disease, was detected in dozens of royal beasts, killing at least 11 of them.
“We chose all the lions from the area and isolated them,” Dusyant Vasavada, the chief guardian of the park’s forests, told AFP.
Authorities imported a special vaccine from abroad, inoculated each animal three times, and then performed booster shots.
Cows and dogs living near the park were also inoculated as suspected carriers of the virus.
“We have vaccinated lions in captivity and successfully controlled the disease, but no new outbreaks have been observed,” said Basabada, who still closely monitors their health. I added.
“Very thrilling experience”
Lions are a source of pride in India, especially in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat, where humans and beasts coexist.
Cattle-rearing tribes live among the animals in the sanctuary, and it is not uncommon to see the pride of lions crossing the highways in the area while drivers wait.
The King of the Jungle is also a major tourist attraction, along with leopards, leopards and other large cats found in the sanctuary.
Approximately 550,000 people visit the park each year, riding an open-top jeep to find predators roaming among the pale yellow deciduous trees.
“Seeing a wild lion up close is a very thrilling experience,” said forest guide Dinesh Sadhya.
However, the 2018 outbreak of the virus reminded us that a steady increase in animal populations cannot be taken for granted.
Lions are less genetically diverse due to their small population and are more vulnerable to epidemics.
A canine distemper virus outbreak in 1993 in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, killed one-third of 3,000 lions.
Wildlife biologist Ravi Cheram said the outbreak emphasized the need to move some pride to other places nearby.
“Translocation is a risk mitigation strategy similar to how we take out health and life insurance,” he told AFP.
“If something happens to Gil’s population, there will always be an additional free-range population of wild lions available.”
Sanctuaries are also too small for a steadily increasing lion population, according to Sheram.
“There are far more lions than Gir can hold … these animals are not stationary, constantly moving out and interacting with livestock and people,” he added.
Efforts to move some lions to other states are involved in a legal dispute with the state government that wants to keep animals in Gujarat.
Authorities instead suggested finding new homes for some lions in other parts of the state.
Meanwhile, the ranger, with the help of dozens of imported radio collars, carefully watches over the wandering lions, who can wander into the village and kill livestock.
“If the lion doesn’t move for 48 hours, we can warn the staff,” said Mohan Ram, deputy guardian of the park’s forests.
Tracking collars are mounted around the lion’s neck to help rangers monitor their health and movement, reduce road and rail accidents, and reduce human-wildlife collisions.
India’s endangered lion population grows to 600
© 2021 AFP
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The pride of India’s endangered lion conquers the disease and roams freely
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