The Gujarat Forest Department on Sunday started vaccinating lions in the Gir sanctuary to protect them from a deadly virus blamed for the death of some of the big cats.

Twenty-three lions have died in the Gir sanctuary, the last abode of the lions in the country, less than a month. Most of them succumbed to the Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) and protozoan infection, forest officials had said.

The lions, an endangered species, are being vaccinated under intensive veterinary care and as per standard protocol, officials said.

CDV is considered a dangerous virus and is blamed for wiping out 30 per cent of lions in East African forests.

“Vaccination of segregated #Lions under intensive veterinary care as per standard protocol has started. Top national andinternational lion experts have been consulted. The Government is undertaking utmost care,” the Chief Conservator of Forest, Wildlife Junagadh, an official twitter handle of the Junagadha district Forest Department, said.

The Gir sanctuary falls under the Junagadha district Forest Department’s jurisdiction.

A senior government official in Gandhinagar said only the lions under the Forest Department’s captivity are being vaccinated.

Preventive steps

Following the death of big cats, the Forest Department had captured 36 lions and shifted them to Jashadhar and Jamwala rescue centres in the Gir forest.

After the CDV spread was confirmed in Asiatic lions, the State government urgently imported 300 shots of the vaccine from the US.

CDV is mainly found in wild dogs, jackals and wolves. The disease can be contracted by lions if they eat any animal infected by it.

It is a highly contagious virus that attacks the immune system and other vital organs.

In most cases, the infection is fatal.

According to the last census conducted in 2015, the number of lions in the Gir sanctuary stood at 523.