The Supreme Court asked the Centre on Wednesday to look into the mysterious deaths of 23 lions in Gujarat's Gir sanctuary in the past three weeks, amid fears that the wild cats could have died due to virus infection.
"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," a bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur told Additional Solicitor General A N S Nadkarni, who was appearing for the Centre.
The bench, comprising justices S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta, was informed that 23 lions have died in the only abode of Asiatic lions in the world in the past three weeks.
"If there is any kind of virus infection, all lions will be wiped out from the area," advocate Ritwick Dutta told the bench, which was hearing a matter related to the re-introduction of cheetahs in India from Namibia in Africa.
The counsel said the manner in which the lions have died, there was a fear of the epidemic spreading to other animals.
The Gujarat government Monday 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.
An application was filed in the top court by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), seeking a direction that the court's 2013 decision rendered in a wildlife case does not prevent authorities from taking steps in conformity with the law to re-introduce cheetahs from Africa to suitable sites in India.
During the hearing, the bench asked the ASG about the deaths of lions in Gir sanctuary and said, "What are you doing on the issue of lions? It is very serious".
The ASG told the court that a matter related to lions in Gujarat was already pending in the apex court.
"I will find out (about the deaths of lions)," he told the bench.
During the hearing, NTCA's counsel said they have complied with the requirements of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an organisation working in the field of nature conservation, for re-location of cheetahs from Africa to India.
The bench, however, told the counsel whether they have taken the consent of the IUCN in this regard.
"You want to re-introduce cheetahs from Namibia. There is a process. IUCN is involved in the process. You are saying that you have complied with the process laid down by IUCN. Has IUCN said that you have complied with it and they have no objection?." the bench asked.
NTCA's counsel said that he would take instructions in this regard whether IUCN has given consent for re-location of Cheetahs from Namibia to India.
The bench has posted the matter for hearing on October 29.