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Across Asia the number of wild tigers has declined by an estimated 50% since 1998; they have have lost over 95% of their habitat in the last century and are now limited to small, fragmented areas (more than half of the world's tigers are confined to habitat islands containing 25 or fewer individuals), usually bordered by human communities. This increasing contact between these big cats, people, and domestic animals means that the last few tiger populations are now more vulnerable to infectious disease.
Canine distemper virus (CDV) is known from all countries where tigers occur, and the virus represents a potential threat to wild tigers throughout their range. The loss of more than half the Siberian tigers within the core protected area of Russia’s Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve in 2010 due to an outbreak of CDV is a case in point. In a groundbreaking study, WCS health experts, together with Russian partners, were the first to confirm the presence of the disease in tigers, and are now investigating how the virus behaves and is transmitted. Our work is focused on monitoring and protecting Russian Far East tigers from future disease outbreaks.
Tiger photo credits (banner and page thumbnail): Julie Larsen Maher