Tigers are going to the dogs. An incurable pathogen named canine distemper virus, (CDV) is spreading fast from dogs to tigers, making them fearless and in the process possibly turning them into man-eaters. The most dangerous consequence of this is that the tiger population could be wiped out by the virus.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (previously called Project Tiger) has issued an advisory to all tiger range states asking them to look out for abnormal behaviour among big cats. The advisory noted the serious symptoms of CDV. “It is incurable, causing high fever, watery eyes, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhoea progressing to seizures, paralysis and death. Tigers have also been observed to display strange behaviour, with disorientation, inability to hunt, besides loss of fear.”
The brain damage caused by CDV results in fatalities among tigers. However, equally disturbing are the consequences to humans. As CDV-infected tigers become fearless, they could venture into villages and towns posing a danger to humans.
As shrinking habitats are forcing tigers to venture out to look for prey, cattle and stray dogs around national parks become the first victims. As many of the strays may carry CDV, it could spread to big cats, experts warn.
Wildlife wardens have been asked to take precautionary measures. “Vaccination of stray cattle, cats and dogs around the tiger reserves should be done on a regular basis. Periodic checking of water quality in tiger reserves (pre and post-monsoon) along with their chemical analysis should be undertaken,” S P Yadav, Deputy Inspector General NTCA, noted. The NTCA advisory cautions wildlife authorities in different states to take notice of the dangerous phenomenon. It has asked wildlife wardens to keep an eye on wild animals showing abnormal behaviour. “Tissues of dead animals (brain tissue) should be collected for pathological analysis. Facilities of deep freezes storing samples should be set up and the record of each should be maintained.”
CDV is making conservators study the phenomenon. A UK-based conservation organisation, Wildlife Vets International (WVI), involved in saving tigers in the Sunderbans — spread between Bangladesh and West Bengal — wants to test whether CDV is causing healthy tigers attack humans and walk unperturbed into villages because they have lost all fear.