Wildlife & Biodiversity

More than Rs 25 crore for Asiatic lions unspent despite 331 deaths

Positions of forest guards, veterinarians and foresters are lying vacant and a vaccine is yet to be developed

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Monday 13 July 2020
The Gujarat government is yet to spend a sum of Rs 26 crore since 2018-19 meant for the conservation of the endangered Asiatic lion in the state. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Gujarat government has not spent Rs 26 crore since 2018-19 that was meant for the conservation of the endangered Asiatic lion in the state’s Asiatic Lion Landscape (ALL), despite 331 leonine deaths in 2018-19.

The figures were shared by the Gujarat forest department with a committee created by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) on May 29, 2020 to look into the high mortality rate of Asiatic lions in ALL.

Since 2018-19, Rs 38 crore (Rs 17 crore in 2018-19 and Rs 21 crore in 2019-20) was sanctioned as the Centre’s contribution for the Asiatic Lion Conservation Project under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Development of Wildlife Habitat.

But the state government has utilised only Rs 7 crore (Rs 61 lakh in 2018-19 and Rs 6 crore in 2019-20). In 2018-19, the unspent amount stood at Rs 16 crore and the same stood at Rs 9 crore in 2019-20.

While the state government hasn’t utilised the money, it has also not filled vacant positions. Of the 681 sanctioned positions of forest guards in the Junagadh Wildlife Circle and Gir (East) Division, only 360 positions, or barely a little over half, have been filled. Similarly, in the two forest administrative units, of the 250 sanctioned positions of foresters, only 138 have been employed.   

After the 2018 Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) outbreak, 20 positions of veterinary doctors were sanctioned by the government. But they are lying vacant as recruitment hasn’t taken place.

The state government has not been able to create a vaccine yet. The GBRC has done the Sero prevalence of Canine Distemper Virus in Asiatic Lions of Gir, Gujarat study and has been asked to develop a CDV vaccine.

“In the year 2018, 1,300 doses of purevax ferret distemper vaccine (Merial, USA) were procured. Of them, 1,100 were utilised for active immunization of the lion population. However, procurement of another 1,000 doses of this vaccine is in process,” the committee report said.

Eighty-five lions have died in ALL between January and May 2020, according to the report — accessed by Down to Earth — submitted by the committee appointed by the MoEF&CC to the ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office in the first week of June. In 2018 and 2019, a total of 112 and 134 lions died in ALL, the report said.

Of the 85 lions that died in early 2020, almost half (44) died due to diseases. The Gujarat forest department has sent blood and swab samples of 48 lions and six tissue samples for investigation and diagnosis to the Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre (GBRC) in Gandhinagar on May 8. The results are awaited.

Committee recommendations

  • Fill the 20 sanctioned positions of veterinary doctors on a priority basis.
  • Mandatory consultation with experts from national institutions like Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, etc and send samples from diseased animals to more than one national accredited lab to screen all infectious and contagious diseases.
  • Report lion mortality in ALL to MoEF&CC on a daily basis.
  • Constitute a team comprising of an immunologist, epidemiologist, virologist, parasitologist, clinical expert and ecologist for field visits to ascertain the actual cause of mortality.
  • Develop a clear standard operating procedure by taking help of national institutes in coordination with MoEF&CC for disease control.
  • Expedite the development of CDV vaccines.

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