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Even a havan and a British doc have failed to save Etawah's lions

Atul Chandra | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

Former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav's dream project, the lion safari in Etawah, suffered another setback when yet another big cat Kuber died on Thursday morning.

Kuber, whose condition deteriorated on Wednesday, became the ninth Asiatic lion at the safari to fall victim to the fatal canine distemper disease despite the government and the wildlife officials' best efforts to save them from the disease.

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Canine distemper is said to be caused by a single-stranded RNA virus of the family paramyxovirus. Viruses that cause measles, mumps and bronchiolitis in humans belong to the same family. Since it is a major disease among dogs, the safari area was recently barricaded to prevent dogs from venturing into the area.

With 9 lions dead, there are now only seven left at the safari. Of these, 4 are lionesses - Heer Kunwari, Jessica and Girishma. The 3 remaining lions are Pataudi, Manan and Gigo.

Confirming the latest death, Etawah lion safari's director Sanjay Srivastava said that the carcass had been sent to IVRI, Bareilly, for post-mortem examination.

He said all precautionary measures were being taken to protect the remaining lions from the fatal disease.

A press note issued by the safari director late in the evening said, "With deep regret it is being informed that lion Kuber of Etawah safari park died this morning at 08.10. The above lion had been ailing from 16 April and was being treated under the guidance of experts from IVRI, Bareilly, Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay University and Cow Research Institution, Mathura after intensive tests. Experts at IVRI, Bareilly, had diagnosed that Kuber was infected with canine distemper virus and was being treated as per their advice. But despite the best efforts of the experienced veterinarians the lion died this morning. To prevent the infection from spreading to other lions, the carcass has been sent to IVRI for post-mortem."

State govt's response

With lions at the safari dying one after another, questions are being raised on the state government's insistence on continuing with the project.

When Mulayam Singh Yadav first thought of a lion safari in his backyard, the project was estimated to cost the exchequer Rs 5 crore. This was in 2005. The work on the project began only in 2013 and by 2015 it had cost the government Rs 53 crore. Besides, there is a corpus of Rs 100 crore for the maintenance of the safari, which was being planned as a lion breeding centre.

There's a corpus of Rs 100 crore for Mulayam's pet lion safari scheme in Etawah

The government spends around Rs 1 lakh per month on each pair.

Initially there were four pairs of the big cat but suddenly in October 2014 they began to die. One lion, two lionesses and two cubs died in the initial onslaught of the disease, while three cubs were stillborn.

In January 2016, when lioness Tapasya died a few days after being brought to Etawah from Gujarat an angry chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had removed SK Upadhyay, the then principal forest conservator of wildlife and instituted a high-level inquiry by the then principal secretary of forest VN Garg. The charge against Upadhyay was that he had not taken Tapasya's illness seriously.

Before Tapasya, the safari had lost Vishnu and Laxmi.

Tapasya was brought with another lioness Jessica and lion Pataudi to speed up the breeding programme at the safari but with the deaths taking place in quick succession, the project appears to have been derailed.

The state government had hired the services of Britain's leading veterinarian Dr Jonathan Cracknell who had suggested some improvements in the upkeep of felines.

To save the lions from evil eye, a havan was also performed by some local well-wishers.

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First published: 3 June 2016, 11:58 IST