Isn't that a dog disease?
Canine distemper virus (CDV), despite its name, can affect a wide range of animals, including dogs, ferrets, red pandas, hyenas and seals. It can also affect animals from the felidae family (though not domestic cats – feline distemper is the virus exclusive to those animals), including tigers. This disease is very dangerous, due to its high contamination via inhalation and its deadly effects: it is fatal 50 percent of the time. This virus is a close relative to measles, and causes symptoms such as fever, hardening of the footpads and nose, paralysis, and seizures which may eventually lead to death.
This virus is a danger to more than just tigers. Introduced in the wild probably via domestic dogs, it poses a serious threat to many species. The black-footed ferret's near extinction can be partially attributed to this virus, and it has also played a significant role in the disappearance of the thylacine (also known as Tasmanian wolf). It already has been reported as the cause of death in several tigers in the wild, in climates as different as those of Siberia and India.
So why is this so bad for tigers?
A recent study by Martin Gilbert and colleagues, published in PLoSOne, studied the potential long-term impact of CDV on a tiger population in a nature reserve in Russia. They used simulations of infection both through tiger-to-tiger interaction, and through tigers hunting affected dogs and/or other carnivores, and used published observation data on current infection status to simulate high- and low-risk scenarios.
(Photo: Michele W)