Mysterious Virus Killing Siberian Amur Tigers
The Amur tiger has an extremely small population in the Russian Far East. However due to conservation efforts, that population has remained stable at around 350 individuals living in the wild. Recent reports have shown the population declining further, and one of the causes taken into consideration is a virus known as distemper. Distemper can afflict many wildlife species including domesticated dogs. For the Amur tiger, this disease, also known as cat plague, affects the white blood cell count. It is highly contagious and often fatal. With the situation growing more urgent, Russian and US veterinarians are now collaborating to understand this mysterious disease.
The collaboration of Russian and US veterinarians and health experts is taking place at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Bronx Zoo. Their findings have been recently presented at a symposium on wildlife diseases held at the Russian Far East town of Ussurisk. Their work will hopefully allow conservationists to create health measures to counter the deadly threat to the Amur tiger.
The first documented appearance of distemper for the tiger occurred in 2003. A wild female tiger walked into the village of Pokrovka displaying symptoms of distemper, and was captured. Other similar incidents have occurred with tigers entering villages and stalling traffic on the roadways, definite odd behavior for the Amur tiger.
"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 Director of Russia 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."
For domestic dogs, a common carrier of the disease, distemper is controlled by vaccination. In Africa, dogs have been effectively treated, leading to a reduction of the disease in the wild, particularly to lions.
At this point, it is unclear as to whether the disease originated with the tiger, or it came from other wild animals or domestic dogs. Scientists are still hard at work to uncover distemper's origin in the Russian Far East. Solving that mystery may be the key to a truly effective plan to save the Amur tiger.
For more information: http://www.wcs.org/