AHMEDABAD -- Seven lions rescued from Gujarat's Gir forest died while undergoing treatment at a rescue centre, taking the overall death toll of big cats to 21 since September 12, the state government said Monday while conceding that some deaths were due to a virus attack.
The government officials said they are yet to identify the type of virus responsible for the deaths of some big cats in the only abode of Asiatic lions in the world.
According to officials, virus presence was found in at least four lions while six big cats were found to be infected with Protozoa Infection, spread by ticks.
The seven lions whose death is reported were captured from the Dalkhania Range of Gir forest between September 20 and 30 and were kept at a rescue centre.
The Forest department had launched the screening operation Dalkhania range to identify sick lions following the death of 11 big cats in Dalkhania and nearby Jashadhar range between September 12 and 19.
During the operation, three more lions were found died taking the toll to 14.
However, the Forest department Monday revealed that the actual death toll has reached 21.
Presence of a virus, which was not identified yet, was found in the blood as well as tissue samples of rescued as well as dead lions, it said in a release.
The samples were analysed by the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune.
"The death toll now stands at 21, as seven more lions who were rescued from Gir forest have died while undergoing treatment at a rescue centre. Though the presence of virus was also found, it will take some more time to identify the exact type of virus," said Chief Conservator of Forest, Junagadh Wildlife Circle, D T Vasavada.
An analysis of the blood and tissue samples of dead and rescued lions by the Junagadh Veterinary College and the Forensic Science Laboratory has confirmed that six lions fell sick due to 'Protozoa Infection', spread by ticks, as per the release.
At present, 31 lions, rescued from Semardi area in Dalkhania range during the screening drive, have been kept under observation at the rescue centre. All these lions appear to be fine and do not show any sign of infection, it said.
Teams comprising experts from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), Delhi Zoo and Lion Safari project in Uttar Pradesh have been roped in for conducting health check-up of lions, collecting samples and preparing and analysing reports, as per the release.
The state government would take appropriate steps as per the recommendations of these experts, it said.
As a precautionary measure, the government has decided to bring some specialised medicines and vaccines from the US, the release said.
During the ongoing screening drive to identify and rescue all the sick and injured lions in the forest, the department has found that the lion population has now gone up to 600, much higher than 523 lions counted in the last census of 2015.