Saturday, November 21, 2015

A lurking viral threat to tigers and leopards?

  • R. Krishna Kumar
  • 11.21.2015

  • It is likely tigers and leopards are moving closer to human habitation because of canine distemper virus affliction.— File PHOTO: M.A. SRIRAM
    It is likely tigers and leopards are moving closer to human habitation because of canine distemper virus affliction.— File PHOTO: M.A. SRIRAM

    Man-animal conflict creates suspicions of big cats getting afflicted by CDV

    In view of escalating man-animal conflict involving tigers around Bandipur-Nagarahole belt, the authorities are wondering if the Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), which spreads from dogs and can be deadly for big cats, has been affecting wildlife.
    The virus is contagious and has no cure once it affects tigers or leopards, though the dogs have chances of survival. The afflicted wild animal gets disoriented, loses fear of human beings and tends to lurk closer to human habitation. This leads to the cats not only being sighted more often on the forest fringes, but it also makes them susceptible to poaching.
    The suspicions of CDV stems from an increase in the number of tigers and leopards being spotted in human landscape along the forest fringes. While two people were killed in Hediyala in tiger attacks in the last one month, two others were injured in separate attacks and four people had lost their lives to tiger attacks around Bandipur in 2013.
    Though it is only a remote possibility, nothing can be ruled out until a scientific study is conducted. The serum and viscera of the ‘man-eater’ of Bandipur shot dead at Hediyala on Thursday has been collected and would be sent to the laboratory for analysis, said a senior Forest Department official.
    CDV in big cats was first observed in Russia, and Sumatra in Indonesia, while the Serengeti National Park lost one-third of its lion population to the deadly disease in the 1990s.
    The source told The Hindu that if the test proved positive then the feral dog population would have to be inoculated but the exercise would be humungous in scope.
    For the record, there are more than 250 villages on the fringes of Bandipur and about 150 villages along Nagarahole border, and the rate of interaction of domestic animals with wild animals is high. The standard procedure in a zoo is to inoculate the captive animals twice or thrice a year.
    The subject has also been a topic of discussion among tiger experts in the past, but the scientific community is divided over the subject as one group dismissed it as a remote possibility and a waste of resources which could be better channelised to handle proven threats.
    However, the National Tiger Conservation Authority protocol mandates that the blood of the dead animal be examined to rule out CDV or other diseases.
    Recent studies have shown that smaller, fragmented tiger populations face higher risk of local extinction due to CDV. There are several sites in India, and even within Karnataka that hold small isolated populations that are embedded in a matrix of dense population of humans, livestock,domestic and feral dogs. Though there are no recorded incidences of CDV in large wild cats it would be good to assess the risk of CDV. Perhaps,we also need to do this on leopards and the leopards that are frequently captured by the forest department provide an ideal opportunity.
    Sanjay Gubbi
    Member, State Board for Wildlife


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