Diseases of Conservation Concern:
WCS’ Tools for Diagnosing Disease in Free-ranging Wildlife
Canine Distemper Virus test to monitor tigers and leopards in the Russia Far East: Human pressures such as poaching and habitat destruction have pushed many tiger populations to the brink of extinction. Currently, there are fewer than 4000 tigers in the wild. In the Russian Far East, numbers of remaining ‘big cats’ are quickly dwindling. In the region, no more than 600 Amur tigers and 80 Far Eastern leopards are left. In addition to poaching, habitat loss, and human conflict, a new threat to these animals has emerged, canine distemper virus (CDV). CDV is a serious viral disease of domestic dogs and other carnivores. In 2003, WCS scientists were the first to detect the disease in Amur tigers in the Russia, and over the past 15 years, as many as one third of tigers in Russia’s Primorye region have been exposed to the virus. Affected tigers lose awareness of their surroundings, may appear blind, and are unable to hunt. Response teams may be called to care for tigers or leopards that have wandered into villages, or encountered people along roads. We have recently developed and manufactured a new smartphone-based, CDV test kit that can be used off-grid, in the field to rapidly identify CDV in sick or dead animals. The goal is to provide real-time information about the health and CDV infection status in critically endangered tigers and Far Eastern leopards, which has direct applications for conservation, animal management, and reducing the risk of this deadly disease. This technology can be applied worldwide for CDV testing in endangered cats and other wild carnivore species, as well as in domestic dogs.