Lions, tigers, and even bears fall victim to canine distemper


Canine distemper is a serious viral infection that can affect a variety of carnivores. The virus is a part of the Morbillivirus class which is under the Paramyxoviridae family, and is spread airborne through direct and indirect contact. At first, the virus causes the affected animal to experience a high fever, red eyes, and watery discharge from the eyes and nose. Lethargy, lack of appetite, persistent coughing, vomiting, and diarrhea are also described symptoms. Following the initial stages, the nervous system is typically the most affected system, causing damage to the brain and spinal cord, resulting in fits, seizures, paralysis, and hysteria. Currently there is no treatment for the virus, so treatment of symptoms is the only option. Some canine are able to fend off the virus and survive, though it is fatal for others. (1)

Recent research shows that the virus can be spread to more than just canines, particularly focusing on the Amur tigers, or more commonly known as Siberian tigers of eastern Russia. The Siberian tigers are currently endangered, so the threat of the canine distemper virus is serious and may require swift action. The tiger populations are currently in the hundreds, and in a particular study, a sub-population was observed to have dropped from 38 to only 9 tigers, which canine distemper contributed to a number of those deaths. In Serengeti National Park, a population of Siberian tiger numbering in the thousands has seen a dramatic decline of 30 percent since 1993. (2)

It was found that wild carnivores are not getting the virus from domestic dogs, but instead from other wild intermediate hosts. So while giving a vaccine to domestic dogs may be helpful, it won’t completely solve the issue of wild carnivore exposure. Scientists are worried that if no action is taken, the Siberian tiger may face extinction as a result of the virus, which only contributes to the factors of poaching and habitat loss that are reducing the population drastically. Vaccines are currently being tested on captive animals, though they are uncertain of how the vaccine will work in a wildlife setting, and if the vaccine will provide a long term immune defense. They are working to develop oral or aerosol forms of the vaccine to cover as much as the wild populations as possible. (2)



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