The Gujarat forest department will continue to keep under observation 36 Asiatic lions rescued from the Gir sanctuary after an outbreak of the canine distemper virus killed at least 17 other lions. But officers are yet to come up with plans for their rehabilitation, Junagadh wildlife circle Chief Conservator of Forests Dushyant Vasavada told The Indian Express on Tuesday.

At least 23 lions have died in the Gir forest since September and the Indian Council for Medical Research has confirmed that the canine distemper virus was found in five of them. Last month, the institute’s scientists said the virus had infected 21 other lions as well.

Between September 26 and September 27, the forest department rescued 33 lions from Semardi and Paniya range near the Gir forest. The 31 animals rescued from Semardi were moved to Jamwala Rescue Centre in Gir (west) forest division, and the other two were shifted to the Animal Rescue Centre in Babarkot in Amreli social forestry division. Earlier, forest officials had rescued 13 lions and shifted them to Jasadhar Rescue Centre in Gir (east) forest division, but 10 of them died in captivity.

The 36 animals under observation seem to be healthy and have been given two doses of the canine distemper virus, said Vasavada. “As per the protocol, after giving the first dose of the vaccine, two booster doses have to be given for better efficacy of the vaccine,” he said.

The Gujarat High Court on October 15 said that experts should decide if all lions in the Gir sanctuary required to be vaccinated against the virus.

The lions were given the first dose of vaccine on October 6 and 7 after which the first booster dose was given after three weeks. The second booster dose has to be given three weeks after the first one. “They are still under observation,” said Vasavada. “Veterinarians will decide if and when to give the second booster.”

An unidentified official monitoring the animals said they were “treading an uncharted territory” since they had never before dealt with the outbreak of a disease on such a scale. “Vaccinating wild animals is not common. Plus, we have to be absolutely sure about the fitness of the rescued animals before releasing them back into the wild,” the official said.

While it is possible that the treatment may kill the virus, but it is possible that the virus can remain in the animal though temporarily suppressed, said the officer. This makes the animal a virus carrier. “Presently, we are conducting regular tests of the rescued animals to know their progress,” said the officer.