Cool Science
A New Threat for a Rare Cat

January 17, 2018

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Photo Credit: ©Land of the Leopard National Park

The Amur leopard is already one of the world's rarest big cats. Now, it faces a new threat: canine distemper virus (CDV). A new paper, co-authored by WCS scientists, describes the first documented case of the illness impacting a member of the species.

Although CDV is well known in domestic dogs, it also infects a wide range of carnivore species, including big cats. In 1994, a CDV outbreak in Tanzania killed over 1,000 lions in the Serengeti National Park.

This new case involves a two-year-old female leopard that was found along a road that crosses the Land of the Leopard National Park, in the Russian territory of Primorskii Krai.

“The leopard was extremely sick when she was brought in, and had severe neurological disease,” said Ekaterina Blidchenko, veterinarian with the National Park and the TRNGO Animal Rehabilitation Center. “Despite hand-feeding and veterinary attention, her condition worsened, and a decision was made to euthanize her for humane reasons.”

For now, the most effective way to combat this threat, the researchers say, is through traditional carnivore conservation strategies: reducing hunting and protecting habitat.

“By increasing the size and connectivity of leopard populations," said Dr. Dale Miquelle, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Russia Program and co-author of the paper, "they become more able to cope with losses from infectious disease, vastly reducing the risk of extinction.”

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