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Veterinarians discover first known case of canine distemper in a wild tiger


Veterinarians from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have confirmed the first-known case of canine distemper in a wild Siberian tiger in the Russian Far East, further threatening populations of this highly endangered big cat.

Kathy Quigley, veterinarian for the WCS Siberian Tiger Project, confirmed that an adult female tigress that wandered into a Russian town exhibiting abnormal behavior had the disease, which is fatal in cats. It is suspected that the tiger caught the disease from an infected domestic dog. Despite heroic efforts to save her, the tiger died. "With less than 500 Siberian tigers left in the wilds of Russia, this is a very serious threat that could contribute to the loss of this severely endangered population," said Dr. Quigley.

In 1994 canine distemper virus killed a third of the lions in the Serengeti. The source of that virus was domestic dogs living with local pastoral communities. In the Russian Far East, canine distemper actively circulates in the domestic animal population, and preliminary studies by Dr. Quigley indicate that 67 percent of dogs sampled have been exposed to the virus. In addition, during the past thirteen years of the Siberian tiger study, tigers and the endangered Amur leopard have shown an increase in exposure to canine distemper.

Dr. Quigley and her team of wildlife veterinarians are collaborating with colleagues in the Russian Far East to address this problem and other diseases. The program is multi-faceted, and includes training Russian veterinarians in wildlife health, understanding disease transmission, and handling tiger/human conflict situations. It also includes a vaccination and education campaign focused on the domestic animals populations in Russian communities. "As people and their domestic animals continue to encroach upon tiger habitat, disease becomes an ever increasing threat to tiger conservation world wide, a threat we cannot afford to ignore," Dr. Quigley said.

Stephen Sautner | EurekAlert!
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