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    African lion (Pan­thera leo)
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    Chee­tah (Aci­nonyx juba­tus)
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    Clouded leop­ard (Neo­fe­lis neb­u­losa) | more info
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    Euro­pean wild­cat (Felis sil­vestris)
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    Jaguar (Pan­thera onca)
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    Jaguarundi (Her­pail­u­rus yagouaroundi)
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    Puma, Moun­tain lion, Cougar (Puma con­color)
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    Ocelot (Leop­ar­dus pardalis)
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    Pal­las’ cat, Manul (Oto­colobus manul)
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    Sand cat (Felis mar­garita)
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    Ser­val (Lep­tail­u­rus ser­val)
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    Snow leop­ard (Pan­thera uncia) | more info
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    South Chines tiger (Pan­thera tigris ssp. amoyen­sis)


Big cats fall prey to dog disease

pub­lished 18 June 2013 | mod­i­fied 30 May 2014

Indone­sia could lead the world in tiger-​saving research

Sumatran tigress LondonZooSome of the world’s rarest big cats are fac­ing a new and deadly threat — from a dog dis­ease. Canine dis­tem­per virus (CDV) is one of an emerg­ing range of pathogens threat­en­ing tigers world­wide, con­firms British char­ity Wildlife Vets Inter­na­tional (WVI).

Now an Indone­sian ini­tia­tive to help save its dwin­dling Suma­tran tiger pop­u­la­tion promises a con­ser­va­tion mile­stone — the world’s first com­pre­hen­sive tiger dis­ease sur­veil­lance pro­gramme. A suc­cess­ful pro­gramme could become a life­line model for tiger range states every­where, believes Dr John Lewis, a big cat vet­eri­nary expert and co-​founder and direc­tor of WVI.

Fol­low­ing talks ear­lier this year with Indone­sian offi­cials and vets, he is return­ing to Suma­tra in Sep­tem­ber to advise and help launch a pro­gramme to shed new light on the causes and impact of canine dis­tem­per and other dis­eases. With chal­lenges on every side for Sumatra’s embat­tled and dwin­dling tiger pop­u­la­tion, strug­gling to sur­vive amidst grow­ing eco­nomic and habi­tat pres­sures, dis­ease could be cat­a­strophic, says Dr Lewis.

A wor­ry­ing symp­tom of canine dis­tem­per, that tigers seem to lose their fear of man, increases the chance of human-​tiger con­flict and leaves them easy prey for poachers.

We have reports from Suma­tra and other tiger range states that tigers are behav­ing abnor­mally and we need to know why
Dr John Lewis, co-​founder and direc­tor of WVI said »

Infec­tion with canine dis­tem­per virus could explain at least some cases of abnor­mal behaviour.

“A tiger dis­ease sur­veil­lance pro­gramme has never been tack­led. If we get it right, it could help us fore­stall a major prob­lem which is the last thing tigers need in their pre­car­i­ous state. We need to find out how these cats are catch­ing dis­tem­per, iden­tify how and where they come into con­tact with domes­tic dogs which are the most likely virus source, and deter­mine how best to tackle the prob­lem. Oth­er­wise we could lose even more of our vul­ner­a­ble big cats,” says Dr Lewis.

The Suma­tra ini­tia­tive is a major leap for­ward in WVI’s work with inter­na­tional tiger con­ser­va­tion alliances from the far east of Rus­sia to the man­grove swamps of the Bangladesh Sundarbans.

Dr Lewis has been involved in the Russ­ian Far East since 2004, and has been invited by Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS) Rus­sia and the Russ­ian Insti­tute of Biol­ogy & Soil to work with Russ­ian wildlife vets and Mar­tin Gilbert from Glas­gow Uni­ver­sity on how to com­bat CDV.

At least three Amur (Siber­ian) tigers, the world’s largest big cat, have died in recent years after con­tract­ing canine dis­tem­per. Stud­ies of both the Endan­gered Amur tiger and the Crit­i­cally Endan­gered Amur leop­ard, with just 40 left in the wild, con­firm that many more have been exposed to the virus.

Rus­sia already has exam­ples of abnor­mal behav­iour, where tigers have walked into vil­lages appar­ently unfazed by their sur­round­ings. In one inci­dent a gaunt tigress, look­ing for dogs as an easy meal, was shot by police after sev­eral cap­ture attempts failed. In a sim­i­lar event, an oth­er­wise healthy look­ing wild tigress was immo­bi­lized but later died in cap­tiv­ity. Evi­dence of CDV were found in both.

Other exam­ples of tigers enter­ing vil­lages or stalling traf­fic on major road­ways, behav­iour pos­si­bly indica­tive of dis­tem­per, have emerged in the last ten years.

In 1994 CDV wiped out a third of Africa’s Serengeti lion pop­u­la­tion after an out­break in feral dogs. Lion num­bers only recov­ered when con­ser­va­tion­ists embarked on a mas­sive dog inoc­u­la­tion programme.

More infor­ma­tion about CDV impact on tigers and other wild felids:

Russia’s first-​ever sym­po­sium on wildlife dis­eases dis­cussed the threat in 2011.

“With all the threats fac­ing Siber­ian tigers from poach­ing and habi­tat loss, rel­a­tively lit­tle research has been done on dis­eases that may afflict tigers,” said Dale Miquelle, WCS Rus­sia Direc­tor of Pro­grams.

“There are no records of tigers enter­ing vil­lages and behav­ing so abnor­mally before 2000, so this appears to be a new devel­op­ment and new threat. Under­stand­ing whether dis­ease is a major source of mor­tal­ity for Siber­ian tigers is cru­cial for future con­ser­va­tion efforts.”

Ana­toly Astafiev, Direc­tor of Sikhote-​Alin Reserve, said, “We have seen a fall in tiger num­bers within our reserve, so it is very impor­tant to know whether at least one of the causes is a rec­og­niz­able dis­ease, some­thing we may be able to address and poten­tially pre­vent.”

Dis­tem­per is found world­wide in domes­tic dogs and has caused infec­tion and death in wild species such as lynx and bob­cats in Canada, Baikal seals in Rus­sia, lions in the Serengeti ecosys­tem in Africa, and rac­coons and the endan­gered black footed fer­ret in the United States.

Fund-​raising has started for WVI’s most excit­ing chal­lenge — the world’s first com­pre­hen­sive tiger dis­ease sur­veil­lance pro­gramme to com­bat deadly canine dis­tem­per (CDV). For dona­tion see here.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at and with per­mis­sion from Wildlife Vets Inter­na­tional. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and lay-​out.

(Source: WVI lat­est news, 06.06.2013)

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Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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