Two more lions died in Gujarat’s Gir forest on Tuesday, taking the total number of deaths since last month to 23. All the lions lived in Gir Sanctuary’s eastern range of Dalkhania.

“Two lions, rescued earlier, died today [Tuesday] morning due to infection,” said Additional Chief Secretary of the Forest Department Rajiv Kumar Gupta, PTI reported. Between September 12 and 19, officials had found carcasses of 11 lions in the Gir forest, prompting the state government to order an inquiry. Ten more lions, who were shifted to a rescue centre, died between September 20 and 30. Officials had last month said the deaths appeared to be caused by infighting and infection.

“While advance reports from various laboratories are awaited, in four cases, canine distemper virus is suspected to be the cause,’’ Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava told the Hindustan Times. The viral disease affects a wide range of domestic and wild animals.

Seventeen lions “succumbed to babesiosis protozoa infection carried by ticks found on most cattle and canines in the wild”, Additional Chief Secretary (Forest and Environment) Rajiv Gupta told The Times of India.

Jungadh Wildlife Division Chief Conservator of Forest Dushyant Vasavada added that officials have isolated all lions from the Semerdi area in eastern Gir. “A survey in all the others parts of Gir, including the national park and Gir West, has been done and they [lions] are clean and safe,’ he said.

The Supreme Court expressed concern about the deaths, ANI reported. “It is an extremely serious matter and the government must find out the reason of lions’ death,” the court told the Centre and Gujarat government. “Lions must be protected.”

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani called the deaths “very unfortunate”, and said his government will take action against officers if they are found guilty or careless. “It was a very unfortunate incident,” Rupani was quoted as saying by PTI. “Twenty-two lions inhabiting one forest range have died due to infection. To make sure that other lions are alright, we have called in doctors from Delhi and Pune to examine them.”