Canine Distemper virus epidemic in India killed 20 Gir Lion

The Canine Distemper (CD) virus that killed 204 Gir Lions


Gujarat belongs to one of the groups of viruses called the morbillivirus. This virus group has some of the deadliest pathogens. Just like the immunodeficiency viruses for humans (HIV), primates (SIV), cats (FIV) and even cattle (BIV), there are morbilliviruses infecting various taxa.

In humans, we have the measles virus, in goats/sheep, the PPR (Peste des Petits Ruminants) virus, in large ruminants the rinderpest virus, in seals the Phocine virus, and in whales and dolphins, the Cetacean virus. They are all morbilliviruses.

The viruses are all genetically closely related, as they can adapt and/or mutate and evolve to become a new pathogen for a range of new taxa. For instance, the nuclear protein of human morbillivirus is said to be 65 percent similar to the CD virus.

Rinderpest, that created havoc along with livestock, including wild ruminants like gaur, has been eradicated from the planet by systematic vaccination program.



The CD virus in lions is a recent phenomenon as evident from large scale deaths in Serengeti, Africa, and Gir, India. This means the CD virus is a recent entrant to felids like a lion.

It is when viruses mutate to take advantage of a new host of species that they turn highly pathogenic. Because CD is a contagious disease, the virus can be transmitted airborne. The mere presence of a deceased individual in the vicinity or near proximity is enough.

Needless to say that the virus can also be transmitted directly when coming into contact with the body fluids of infected animals, and through contaminated water and food.

How did the CD virus get into Gir in the first place?


CD is endemic to the Indian subcontinent, which means dogs regularly suffer from CD. The chances of survival among pedigree dogs, especially puppies, is negligible.



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Dogs could have been the source of infection for the lions, but that doesn’t mean they will continue to be the source of infection every time. The virus might also be present in other free-ranging wild carnivores, but confirmation on these possibilities is possible only by conducting routine serological surveys and epidemiological studies.



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