The lion is a global icon and one of the world’s best-known wild animals. Yet despite its fame the lion population has decreased by over 40% in the last two decades, with many sub-populations now numbering only between 10-100 animals. 

Canine distemper virus (CDV) is a known disease threat to lions; in Tanzania in 1994, it killed more than 30% of the lion population in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, and in 2001 it killed more than 40% of the population in Ngorongoro Crater. Those populations were large enough to be resilient and recover, but smaller populations are under much greater threat. 

As domestic animals associated with expanding human populations increase, the risk of the virus re-entering wild lion populations also increases. This threat is expected to increase along with increasing stresses from climate change, since previous die-offs were associated with severe drought conditions and co-infection with the tick transmitted protozoal parasite Babesia.

WCS is in an ideal leadership position for lion conservation – WCS works in many of the landscapes where lions still exist and has recently developed an African Lion Conservation Strategy. WCS also has in-house expertise on animal husbandry and veterinary care, including on disease diagnostics and portable diagnostic labs. We expect to conduct further research on prevalence and modelling of CDV and other potentially threatening diseases in meta-populations of lions that will allow for preventive measures to be developed and deployed. 


Lion photo credits (banner and thumbnail): Julie Larsen Maher

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