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Is canine distemper a lurking threat to the big cats?

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New Delhi, Aug 10: Tiger population made a significant growth in India. Their number stood at 2,967 at last count in 2018, a 33 per cent jump from 2,226 in 2014, according to the tiger census released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

However, shrinking habitat, a decline of prey and poaching continues to be a threat to the big cat's survival. Along with these, a recent study has found that a potential virus Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) affected dogs living in and around wildlife sanctuaries has raised concern.

Is canine distemper a lurking threat to the big cats?

Forced into smaller habitats, tigers are sharing more space with dogs, many of which carry canine distemper virus (CDV), a fatal disease that is usually found in dogs but is also carried by other small mammals.

1 female and 2 male tigers present in Palamau Tiger Reserve

Canine distemper is a contagious viral disease that affects a wide variety of animal species, including dogs, coyotes, foxes, pandas and wolves. It attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of animals.

A study published Threatened Taxa notes that 86% of the tested dogs around Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan carried CDV antibodies in their bloodstream.

The seroprevalence of CDV antibodies in the sampled dogs was 86% (95% CI 78-91 %), indicating the probability of the dogs acting as a reservoir and having been exposed to CDV in the past, says the report.

"This could threaten the tiger populations in the park, considering the close proximity of dogs to tigers. It is, therefore, crucial to assess disease threats at the domestic-wildlife interface and to establish management strategies for more effective conservation practices in the landscape, the study states.

With the aim of exploring the threat CDV poses for tigers, the study was conducted villages near Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan, India. Free-roaming dog populations within a 4-km-radius of the park's periphery were tested for antibodies against CDV.

With India's tiger success story, is it time to save other endangered species too

Recalling the past

It may be recalled that as many as 23 lions have died in the Gir sanctuary in less than last year. Most of them have succumbed to canine distemper virus (CDV) and protozoa infections.

CDV is considered a dangerous virus and has been blamed for wiping out 30% of the population of African lions in East African forests.

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