Russian tigers threatened by dog disease

Wild Amur tigers in Russia are falling victim to a viral infection transmitted by stray dogs. The same disease has taken its toll on the lions of the Serengeti, and a mutated version threatens seals around the world. However, vaccination could halt the spread of the virus.

Over the past decade there have been two confirmed cases of Siberian tigers falling victim to canine distemper. The virus causes muscle twitching and confusion, and eventually fatal seizures.

In November 2003 a wild tigress wandered into the village of Pokrovka in Khabarovskiy Krai in the far east of Russia. She was captured by Wildlife Conservation Society staff and treated, but died in captivity (Journal of Wildlife Diseases, vol 46, p 1252). Then last year another tigress entered a different village, Terney. She was shot dead by local police after repeated attempts to capture her failed.

Samples from the two tigers confirm that they were carrying the distemper virus, says Denise McAloose of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. McAloose is studying samples from four more Amur tigers that showed similar symptoms, and suspects that some will also turn out to have had distemper. She presented her findings at an international symposium devoted to the International Year of Forests in Ussuriysk, Russia.


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