GIR NATIONAL PARK (INDIA) – Three years after a lethal virus struck India’s endangered Asiatic lions of their final remaining pure habitat, conservationists are looking for new houses to assist booming prides roam free.
The majestic large cats, barely smaller than their African cousins and with a fold of pores and skin alongside their bellies, have been as soon as discovered broadly throughout southwest Asia.
Looking and human encroachment noticed the inhabitants plunge to simply 20 by 1913, and the lions at the moment are discovered solely in a wildlife sanctuary in India’s western Gujarat state.
Following years of concerted authorities efforts, the lion inhabitants in Gir Nationwide Park has swelled to almost 700, in line with an official census final yr.
However simply three years in the past, the conservation success appeared to be in peril when a number of lions began to die in a single a part of the 1,400 sq. kilometre (545 sq. mile) forest.
The canine distemper virus — a extremely infectious illness — was detected amongst dozens of the royal beasts, killing a minimum of 11 of them.
“We picked all of the lions from the realm and remoted them,” Dushyant Vasavada, the park’s chief conservator of forests, informed AFP.
Authorities imported particular vaccines from abroad and every animal was given three doses every, adopted by a booster shot.
Cattle and canine residing close to the park have been additionally inoculated as suspected carriers of the virus.
“We vaccinated the lions in captivity and efficiently managed the illness and no new outbreak has been noticed,” Vasavada mentioned, including that park rangers have been nonetheless intently monitoring their well being.
– ‘Very thrilling expertise’ –
Lions are a supply of pleasure for India, significantly in Gujarat’s Saurashtra area, the place man and beast coexist.
A cattle-rearing tribe lives among the many animals within the sanctuary, and it isn’t unusual to see a pleasure of lions crossing a freeway within the area as motorists wait and watch.
The king of the jungle can also be a serious vacationer attraction, together with leopards, panthers and different large cats discovered within the sanctuary.
Round 550,000 folks go to the park every year, using in open-top jeeps as they attempt to spot the predators prowling amongst pale yellow deciduous bushes.
“It’s a very thrilling expertise to see the lions from shut within the wild,” mentioned forest information Dinesh Sadiya.
However the 2018 virus outbreak was a reminder that the regular development within the animal’s inhabitants can’t be taken without any consideration.
– New habitats –
The lions have low genetic range attributable to their small inhabitants measurement, making them extra susceptible to epidemics.
A 1993 outbreak of canine distemper virus in Tanzania’s Serengeti Nationwide Park killed a 3rd of its three,000 lions.
Wildlife biologist Ravi Chellam mentioned that outbreak underscored the necessity to transfer a number of prides to different websites close by.
“Translocation is a threat mitigation technique akin to us getting well being or life insurance coverage,” he informed AFP.
“If one thing occurs to the inhabitants in Gir, there may be at all times going to be a further free-ranging inhabitants of untamed lions obtainable.”
Chellam mentioned the sanctuary was additionally now too small for its steadily rising lion inhabitants.
“There are much more lions than what Gir can maintain… these animals are usually not static, they’re continually transferring outdoors and interacting with home animals and folks,” he added.
Efforts to maneuver some lions to different states have been mired in authorized wrangles with the state authorities, which needs to maintain the animals in Gujarat.
Authorities have as a substitute proposed discovering new houses for some lions in different elements of the state.
Within the meantime, rangers maintain an in depth watch on the wandering lions — which generally stray into villages and kill livestock — with the assistance of dozens of imported radio collars.
“If a lion has not moved for 48 hours we will alert our workers,” mentioned Mohan Ram, the park’s deputy conservator of forests.
The monitoring collars are fitted round a lion’s neck, serving to rangers monitor their well being and actions, cut back highway and rail accidents, and reduce human-wildlife battle.