Gandhinagar: Scientists have at last found out why lions are dying in an alarming rate in Gujarat’s Gir forest. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) concluded that the big cats are being infected by an active canine distemper virus (CDV).

The highly contagious disease already killed 23 lions in the Sanctuary since September. Moreover, 21 lions out of 27 were tested positive for the disease.

As a precautionary measure, ICMR asked the state to vaccinate the big cats against CDV.

Asiatic lions are categorised as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List.

What is CDV?

The Canine distemper virus affects a wide range of animals, from domestic dogs to large cats like lions. Coyotes, foxes, pandas, wolves, ferrets, skunks, raccoons and even some primates can fall victim to this virus.

The virus is known to attack the gastrointestinal, respiratory and central nervous systems, especially in dogs.

Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, lethargy, diarrhoea etc. Sometimes thick mucus is seen coming from the eyes and nose of the animal.

According to Hindustan Times, Dr Balram Bhargava, director, ICMR, said, “Since there is a hint of active disease transmission, we have directed that the lions be given vaccine shots and kept in different geographical locations.”

In 1994, CDV wiped out about 30% of the total lion population in East Africa’s Serengeti forest.