As if urban encroachment and poachers were not bad enough, India’s tigers must now contend with a deadly virus for their survival. Canine distemper, a disease commonly found in domestic dog populations, is threatening both captive and wild tigers. This year alone, four tigers have died from the virus, as have red pandas and lions.

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Conservation groups are laboring to safeguard India’s remaining tigers. Home to about half of the world’s 3,200 animals. The virus affects the nervous and respiratory system and damages the immune system, leading to secondary bacterial infections. Canine distemper also attacks the brain, which can cause sick animals to become confused and wander into human settlements or become unwary around poachers. Experts believe that the virus in tigers, red pandas, and lions was spread by direct contact, like licking. Finding the origin of the disease is extremely difficult, as most cases of distemper in the wild are not tested for or recorded.

Two tiger cubs in a zoo at Patna have already been found positive for canine distemper in addition to a wild tiger in West Bengal, a red panda in Manipur, a captive lion in Darjeeling, and a wild tiger in Uttar Pradesh. Dr. AK Sharma, head scientist at the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, stated that due to the great distance between each case, the virus must be spreading. Due to increased human expansion, tigers are more at risk of coming into contact with domesticated dogs and the deadly illness. While dogs can be vaccinated to stem the progression of the disease, there is no such protection for tigers or known cure.

“We cannot vaccinate every dog, of course. But even 50 percent of dogs in the zones around sanctuaries would help,” said Rajesh Gopal, from the government’s National Tiger Conservation Authority. His agency plans to test every tiger carcass for evidence of canine distemper. Some experts believe that trying to control the virus in India is impossible. Efforts to set aside land and quarantine animals, like what has been done in South Africa, would come into conflict with urban developments for India’s ever-expanding population.

Via the Guardian

Images via Wikicommons users Vikram Vetrivel, Sujit kumar, and Paul Mannix