Siberian tigers are contracting canine distemper

The Siberian tiger population, a.k.a. Amur tigers, are already critically endangered because of their low population numbers at about 500. Conservationists are engaged in a rearguard action to save them and a recent attempt at artificial insemination at a zoo tragically killed the tiger. I now read that they are at risk of being killed by canine distemper (Scientific American online).

Siberian tigers are contracting canine distemper
 Siberian tigers are contracting canine distemper.
Photo: Jeannette Rudloff Zonar GmbH and Alamy Stock Photo.

The experts discovered this disease in Siberian tigers in 2003 when a young tiger wandered into a Russian village on the Chinese border. The scientists determined that she suffered from canine distemper. She died not long after her discovery. 

I had thought that canine distemper was not zoonotic and therefore it could not be transmitted from dogs to cats. We are not told how the tigers are getting this disease (but see below). Let's just say that Siberian tigers are suffering from distemper which an untreatable killer and that it can infect many types of carnivore.

Apparently the disease has spread quite widely across the Siberian tiger distribution in the Far East of Russia. They believe it could wipe out a segment of the population of this endangered wild cat species. Accordingly, they are going to try and vaccinate the tigers.

They believe that distemper can impact wild tiger populations quite profoundly. They predicted, I guess using a computer program model, that distemper increases the risk of extinction of the Siberian tiger over the next 50 years by 65%. This relates to the smaller tiger population. I think this is a reference to the fact that the Siberian tiger is divided into two populations i.e. their distribution is fragmented which in itself makes for a greater risk of extinction.

It appears that the vaccination process is some way off because at the moment it is being discussed. They believe that a distemper vaccination has a role to play in assisting the survival of isolated tiger populations at risk. It is believed that vaccinating just a couple of tigers from the smaller population every year would reduce the risk of extinction by 75% of that population of tigers.

They decided that tigers get distemper from other wild animals. It is assumed that the main animal reservoir for this disease is domestic dogs. But vaccinating them would not be enough.


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