Wildlife & Biodiversity

DTE Exclusive: Govt report blames half of Gir lion deaths in January-May this year on diseases

The other half died of natural causes, snake bite, electrocution and by falling into wells

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Monday 13 July 2020
A host of diseases caused 44 of the 85 Asiatic Lion deaths in Gujarat's Gir in the first five months of 2020, a government report has said. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A host of diseases caused 44 of the 85 Asiatic Lion deaths in Gujarat's Gir in the first five months of 2020, a government report has said. Photo: Wikimedia Commons A host of diseases caused 44 of the 85 Asiatic Lion deaths in Gujarat's Gir in the first five months of 2020, a government report has said. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Diseases like rabies, pneumonia, urinary tract infection, anaemia, hepatitis and multiple organ failure caused half (44) of the 85 Asiatic lion deaths in the Asiatic Lion Landscape (ALL), Gujarat between January and May 2020, according to a government report.

Since we had reported earlier, the draft of the report had stated that 92 lions had died between January and May 2020.

ALL includes Gir National Park and Sanctuary and covers eight districts of Gujarat, including Junagadh, Amreli, Bhavnagar, Porbandar, Rajkot, Gir-Somnath, Botad and Jamnagar, according to the 14th Lion Population Estimation Report 2015.

The fatalities due to diseases include:

  • Rabies – Caused four deaths
  • Pneumonia – Two deaths
  • Urinary tract infection – One death
  • Anaemia – One death
  • Hepatitis – One death
  • Multiple organ failure – 15 deaths

The report was prepared by a Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) appointed committee and has been accessed by Down to Earth (DTE).

Sick female cub

DTE also accessed the Animal Treatment Record Sheet and the post-mortem report of a female cub admitted at the Wildlife Rescue Centre, Jasadhar in Gir East of ALL. The rescue centre is a Gujarat forest department treatment facility for injured and sick lions.  

The cub was “dehydrated, emaciated, anaemic, pale and had icteric (jaundiced) mucus membrane of eyes and palate” when she was first brought to the centre on April 19. 

The cub weighed nine kilograms and was 48 centimetres in height and 113 centimetres in length, according to the rescue centre records. On the first day at the centre, her temperature was 38.7 degrees Celsius — a lion’s normal body temperature ranges from 38.05°C to 39.16°C — and was kept under observation.

The next day, however, the cub’s temperature spiked to 40.4°C. According to the Rescue Centre Treatment Record Sheet, she was put on doses of veterinary drugs like Imidocarb, VetalginTribivet, Noroxin and Biocef

The temperature went down the next day, but the medicines continued and within four days, the cub had become active and was exhibiting “circling movement” by April 25.

But by April 27, the cub’s condition started deteriorating. Unable to eat or stand, with discharge coming from her eyes and ears, the cub died on April 30. The post-mortem report says she died of multiple organ failure.

A host of reasons

The cub was one of the 44 lions that have died due to disease in ALL since January this year.

The MoEF&CC had formed the committee to look into lion deaths in ALL on May 29.  It included representatives from the wildlife division of MoEF&CC, National Tiger Conservation Authority, Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Bareilly and Wildlife Institute of India.

The committee visited the region on May 30 and June 1. Its report submitted to the MoEF&CC and the Prime Minister’s Office in the first week of June, showed that in 2018 and 2019, 112 and 134 lions died in ALL.

The report lists reasons like “shock because of intussusceptions and respiratory failure (positive for blood protozoa)”, “shock because of respiratory and renal failure”, “shock because of septicemia due to fracture”, as the causes of death for 44 of the 85 lions that died in January-May 2020.

Twenty-four lions died due to snake bite, electrocution and drowning in wells and 17 due to natural causes.

Of the 85 deaths, the highest number — 59 — was reported from Gir East Division, Dhari, the division which saw an outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) in 2018.

Experts say that the cause of death and the post-mortem reports pose more questions than they answer.

Senior Fellow and Convenor, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bengaluru, Abi Tamim Vanak, raised concerns over the deaths of lions due to rabies: “The reporting of the death of four lions due to rabies is not only alarming, but also raises several questions that are important to answer for future management,” he said.

Vanak raised the following questions:

  • How was rabies diagnosed?
  • Was it based only on clinical symptoms, or were some other confirmatory laboratory tests also done?
  • Was any effort made to trace the potential source of rabies?
  • Were these lions known to frequent areas around human settlements from where potentially these infections could have been picked up (from dogs)?
  • Have brain samples from these lions been appropriately preserved so that a full investigation can be done on the source of the rabies infections?

Disease ecologist, modeler and wildlife veterinarian at the Michigan State University, Aniruddha Belsare said that though the report stated ‘multiple organ failure’ as the probable cause of death, the post-mortem findings did not support this provisional conclusion.

The cause of death could not be ascertained based on the post-mortem findings reported in the document, he said. The post-mortem report should clearly state that the post-mortem examination was inconclusive.

“Further testing (samples sent for histopathological examination) might shed some light on the probable cause of death, but any conclusions drawn should be clearly explained and the ancillary test reports made available. What we need is a standard operating procedure for conducting wildlife necropsies and for reporting necropsy findings,” Belsare said.

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