New Delhi: The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to look into the mysterious deaths of 23 lions in Gujarat’s Gir sanctuary in the past three weeks even as there were fears of the big cats having died due to virus infection. Terming the matter as “very serious”, a bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur told Additional Solicitor General ANS Nadkarni, who was appearing for the Centre, “Today, we are faced with a peculiar problem. Lions are dying. There seems to be some kind of virus. We do not know. It is coming in newspapers. You find it out.”

The Gujarat government had said some of the lions died due to a virus infection. It said it was yet to identify the type of virus that led to the deaths. To that, one counsel said, “If there is any kind of virus infection, all lions will be wiped out from the area.”

The court asked the ASG, “What are you doing on the issue of lions?” The ASG said a matter related to lions in Gujarat was pending in the apex court and assured the bench, “I will find out (about the deaths of lions)”. The court will hear the matter on October 29.

Meanwhile, the Gujarat government confirmed the presence of canine distemper virus (CDV) in four of dead lions. State forest officials said they had sought help from international experts and CDV vaccines from the US were likely to be delivered in a day.

Additional Chief Secretary (Forest & Environment) Rajiv Gupta said samples of seven dead lions had revealed the presence of babesia protozoal infection. “CDV did not cause the deaths. But it affects the immunity of animals. Lions with CDV can also get infected by the babesia protozoa. Attack of viral and protozoal infection can cause death.”