We humans are doing a pretty good job at getting rid of tigers, one of the most majestic and feared predators of all time; it is estimated that there are 3,200 wild tigers left. Not only do these amazing animals have to worry about habitat loss, poaching, retaliatory killings and hunting as sport, those who are in captivity, have to worry about their mental well-being.
Yet, it might not be all of our fault. As reported in the Huffington Post, India is “scrambling” to save tigers who are dying from something other than us.
What‘s Killing the Tigers?
Canine Distemper Virus (CDV). The tiger is literally as sick as a (stray) dog. While CDV is fairly common in domestic dogs, it can be lethal to wildlife. As more people – and India has 1.2 billion people — move into tiger territory, they also bring man’s best friend; people and dogs are coming in larger and more frequent waves.
In India, many tigers have tested positive for CDV, a virus that has claimed the lives of at least four big cats in the early part of 2014. Four endangered animals is four too many.
While CDV does have physical side effects, like seizures, the most threatening is behavioral. 21st Century Tiger added the video below to their informational section of tigers and CDV. As the clip shows, tigers with CDV lose their fear of humans and become easy prey for hunters, poachers and villagers looking for revenge.
How Is India Handling CDV?
To start, India is testing every dead tiger for CDV. While a nationwide campaign to vaccinate every dog in India against CDV would be ideal, it is not realistic. India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority explained that even vaccinating half of all dogs would be a huge help.
While setting up a quarantined space could help, India’s high population numbers and lack of space make it almost impossible. Another option could be to vaccinate cattle against another virus similar to CDV: rinderpest. The hope is that the new wave of antibodies could aid the tigers’ defenses. Researchers could also look for antibodies that are already part of a tiger’s natural defenses.
Whatever course tiger conservationists take, it’s going to require a lot of funding, time and government support. So far, a CDV tiger epidemic doesn’t seem to be a huge priority for the Indian government. Some experts believe that it’s already too late. Tigers that tested positive for CDV weren’t in the same geographic regions or in an area close to dogs, so CDV could already be spreading and fast.
It‘s Not Just Tigers
While the focus of this piece has been tigers, CDV can harm all types of wildlife from small raccoons to big cat predators. It is a significant virus that should not be taken lightly. As reported in the Huffington Post, the black-footed ferret came close to extinction in the U.S. because of CDV, and CDV killed one-third of the Serengeti National Park’s African lions.
Giving Dogs a Bad Name
CDV is giving dogs a bad name. While few would consider harming dog pets, stray and feral dogs don’t have the same protections and they are vulnerable. Plus, they are already perceived as a “menace” inside and outside of cities. If the tigers are in trouble and the dogs are to blame, then some believe that it’s time to eradicate the stray dog problem.
As recently reported in the Hindustan Times, stray dogs are a menace to India’s wildlife. One expert believes that strays should be sterilized in the cities and that “elimination programmes [sic]” should be used in wilder areas because the dogs are more feral.
Yes, the tigers and wildlife are in trouble. But is killing stray and feral dogs going to stop the spread of CDV? Probably not. If the strays are to blame, then humans are even more to blame. By not practicing proper spay and neuter programs, the stray and feral dog populations grew. Dogs aren’t a menace to society or wildlife, they are another unfortunate victim of circumstance; both tigers and dogs need our help.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock