NIV finds ‘Canine Distemper Virus’ responsible for recent lion deaths in Gir forest

Complete CDV genome recovered by the scientists of ICMR-NIV for the first time in India. The scientists have also recommended existing CDV vaccine which should work as a protective intervention for Gir lions


Pune: National Institute of Virology based in Pune has found Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) responsible for the death of 5 Asiatic lions in Gir forest, Gujarat. As such for the first time, a complete genome of CDV was recovered by NIV that is affiliated to the Indian Council of Medical Research, the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research.

The sequence was compared to available CDV sequences and it was found to be related to the East African strains. The scientists of ICMR-NIV have also recommended existing CDV vaccine which should work as a protective intervention for Gir lions.

CDV causes a highly contagious and life-threatening disease in dogs. CDV also affects different wild carnivores viz., wolves, foxes, raccoons, red pandas, ferrets, hyenas, tigers, and lions. The prevalence of this virus and its diversity in wildlife of India is not studied. Only a few reports are available regarding the detection of CDV in captive wild carnivores which included tigers and red panda. A recent report during 2016 from Etawah, Uttar Pradesh of the CDV infection was confirmed by Indian Veterinary Research Institute where dogs were considered to be the primary source of infection and virus transmission.

In the past, CDV had wiped out 30 per cent of the total population of lions in Serengeti forest areas in East Africa. Considering the threat posed by CDV to the lives of this endangered species, ICMR has requested the Government of India to take immediate steps to save these Asiatic lions, which are heading towards extinction. As a precautionary measure, 300 shots of CDV vaccine are imported from the US for the Lions. ICMR has also recommended that to avoid extinction of the lions, the animals should be placed in 2-3 different sanctuaries.