NEW DELHI: ICMR-NIV asked the government Tuesday to shift healthy lions from Gujarat's Gir forest after, it said, fresh samples of the wild cats tested positive for a virus, which had wiped out 30 per cent of the lion population in East Africa, indicating "active disease transmission".
Since September 12, as many as 23 lions have died in the sanctuary, at least 11 of them due to the CDV and Protozoa infections, according to forest officials.
"Specimens were again tested for the Canine Distemper virus (CDV) by using molecular methods i.e.RT-PCR. One or more samples from 21 out of 27 Gir lions have tested positive for CDV."
"This indicates active disease transmission among the Gir lions," the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) - National Institute of Virology (NIV) said in a statement.
The ICMR, New Delhi, is the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research.
ICMR-NIV had received a total of 80 samples of nasal, ocular and rectal swabs from 27 Gir lions which were sick and under treatment and observation at Sakkarbaug Zoo, Junagadh, Gujarat.
The samples were referred to ICMR-NIV, Pune by the director of Sakkarbaug Zoo on October 6.
"Since the CDV is transmitted by airborne route as well as infected body secretions, healthy lions from Gir forest may be shifted to an alternate suitable location," it said.
It also said the lions should be immediately vaccinated with the available vaccine for the CDV.
"At present, most of the available vaccines are made up of the CDV American genotypes 1 and 2 and these vaccines have been used in a number of countries and have been found to be effective," it said.
The CDV causes a highly contagious and life-threatening disease in dogs and also affects wild carnivores such as wolves, foxes, racoons, red pandas, ferrets, hyenas, tigers, and lions.
The prevalence of this virus and its diversity in wildlife of India is not studied and only a few reports are available regarding the detection of the CDV in captive wild carnivores which included tigers and red panda.
In the past, the CDV wiped out 30 per cent of the total population of lions in Serengeti forest areas in East Africa, ICMR had earlier said.
ICMR-NIV had also earlier said it had found the CDV responsible for the death of five Asiatic lions in the Gir forest and as such for the first time a complete genome of the CDV was recovered by the NIV.
The Gujarat Forest Department Sunday started vaccination of lions in the Gir sanctuary to protect them from a deadly virus blamed for the death of some of the big cats in their last abode.