Disease Surveillance Programme for Wild Sumatran Tigers

This project kicked off with a workshop for Indonesian wildlife vets, representatives of the Indonesian Veterinary Medical Association and the Wildlife and Conservation Office (BKSDA), hosted by TSI and facilitated by Dr John Lewis of WVI.

From this inaugural meeting, the Sumatran Tiger Health Forum was established. It facilitated an agreed framework and protocols for disease surveillance across the island and a network of wildlife vets and supporting organisations.

Habitat degradation leads to small, fragmented populations and tigers using a mixed use landscape to survive. This increases the likelihood of tigers coming into contact with diseases carried by domestic animals, some of which are potentially lethal to tigers. Critically Endangered, the Sumatran tiger numbers approximately 500 in the wild. Its decline is due to high rates of habitat loss and fragmentation, and poaching.

In addition, a reduced genetic diversity often seen in small populations can lead to an increased susceptibility to disease. There are high levels of human-tiger conflict in Sumatra and an illegal trade in tiger parts.

In recent years it has been reported that conflict tigers are behaving uncharacteristically – apparently healthy animals losing their fear of people and straying into villages. These symptoms are worryingly consistent with infection with Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), which can be fatal in large cats.  Furthermore, such behaviour makes tigers far more vulnerable to poachers.

Wildlife Vets International (WVI) is working with a number of partner organisations to determine to what extent tigers are exposed to CDV and other pathogens across its range and in Sumatra.  Although vets in Taman Safari Indonesia (TSI) are well equipped and experienced to deal with wild tigers, they are many hours away by aeroplane. Therefore a network of Indonesian vets working across Sumatra with conflict and research tigers are required to collect appropriate samples and submit them to testing for a range of disease agents.

Scientific paper on CDV in Amur tigers:  Seimon TA, Miquelle DG, Chang TY, Newton AL, Korotkova I, Ivanchuk G, Lyubchenko E, Tupikov A,Slabe E, McAloose D. 2013. Canine distemper virus: an emerging disease in wild endangered Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica). mBio 4(4):e00410-13. doi:10.1128/mBio.00410-13. More information is available on CDV on the Wildlife Vets International website.