New Delhi: After the death of 23 Asiatic lions in Gir forest due to the deadly Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), Gujarat State Forest and Animal Husbandry Departments have jointly started the vaccination of cattle and dogs in 20 nearby villages.

The Forest Department received 300 shots of a vaccine against CDV from the US last week after top bio-medical research body Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) urged the state government to take immediate steps to save the lions.

“We have decided to vaccinate dogs and cattle in 20 villages as a precautionary measure. The state Animal Husbandry Department is doing the vaccination in consultation with the Forest Department,” Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) of Junagadh wildlife Circle Dushyant Vasavada told Gulf News.

On Monday, ICMR confirmed that since September 12, as many as 23 lions died in the Gir sanctuary, at least 11 of them due to CDV and Protozoa infections. “It is unfortunate because Asiatic lions are the last remaining species which live in the Gir forests of western India,” ICHR said in a statement.

Thirty-three lions kept in isolation at rescue centres in Jamwala in Gir (West) division and at Babarkot in Amreli social forestry division have already been vaccinated.

“Top lion experts of the world had been consulted before the lions were administered doses of poly-vaccine imported from the US and which gives protection against a host of viruses, including the CDV,” Vasavada said.

Additional Chief Secretary of Forest Department Rajiv Kumar Gupta said the vaccine was administered to lions after going through various health reports of the animals.

“The consignment had reached Gir few days ago. We took a call on vaccinating lions after analysing various reports. The 36 lions which were shifted to rescue centres from the forest as a precautionary measure are doing well and stable,” Gupta said.

Meanwhile, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani on Monday said that lions contracted a “contagious disease” after eating “contaminated food”. He said the situation in Gir forest was under control.

“We are investigating the issue of the health of lions. A survey of the health of lions and its surrounding areas have been conducted, blood samples of the lions were also taken and the reports are negative. Hence there is no need to worry. Lions are safe in Gujarat and there will not be any relocation,” Rupani said.

But Leader of Opposition in Gujarat state legislative assembly Paresh Dhanani alleged that there could be a conspiracy behind the death of Asiatic lions. “I suspect that lions died after eating contaminated food served to them by the administration. It can be a conspiracy to shift lions to Madhya Pradesh and get votes during the upcoming state legislative assembly polls there,” Dhanani said reacting to the request of MP state government to shift lions to their state.