Amur tiger

Vaccine could save critical tiger population

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In 2003 a young Amur tiger, seeming disoriented, wandered into a Russian village on the Chinese border. Wildlife Conservation Society scientists anesthetized the tiger and determined that she had canine distemper—the first case confirmed in a wild tiger. The feline patient zero died six weeks later.

Since then, canine distemper, an untreatable virus that can infect many types of carnivores, has spread among Amur tigers across the subspecies’ range in Russia’s far east. An exhaustive new analysis suggests that if the virus runs its course, it could wipe out a key population of these endangered cats. But this risk can be lessened, the researchers found, by vaccinating the tigers.

“We found that distemper does have the capacity to impact wild tiger populations, particularly smaller ones, quite profoundly,” says Martin Gilbert, a wildlife veterinarian and epidemiologist at Cornell University and lead author of the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. Small populations of other susceptible species could be threatened as well, he adds.

The complete article was published by Scientific American on March 17, 2021.