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The carcass of a tiger found near Ladang Aramijaya, Mersing on March 4. It was believed to have died from Canine Distemper. -Pic courtesy of the Wildlife and National Parks Department
The carcass of a tiger found near Ladang Aramijaya, Mersing on March 4. It was believed to have died from Canine Distemper. -Pic courtesy of the Wildlife and National Parks Department

KUALA LUMPUR: More targeted studies to collect baseline data on Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) cases in wild carnivores are needed to better understand the role of feral or domestic animals as contributors to a local CDV reservoir.

WWF-Malaysia Tiger Landscape Lead Dr Mark Rayan Darmaraj told the New Straits Times that in the case of an outbreak, dogs living in close proximity to the forest fringes, particularly in villages, plantations and logging camps, could be tested for the presence of CDV antibodies and vaccinated if the tests came back positive.

He said this in response to a report on the recent discovery of a dead tiger in Mersing, Johor, which was believed to have died due to CDV.

Rayan said one should wait for the post-mortem findings to ascertain the actual cause of death of the tiger.

“However, based on the official statement by the Water, Land and Natural Resources Ministry and visual observation of the video, signs seem to indicate the tiger could have contracted and died from CDV.”

He said the virus, which affected tigers, had been documented in Russia, India and locally, with cases of tigers found entering towns and roaming the streets.

“The virus targets the central nervous system, causing the animals to become disoriented and exhibit no fear. Feral and domesticated dogs have been known to be carriers and can be a source of transmission.

“With regard to this case, further investigation is needed to identify the source and mode of transmission so the disease reservoir can be understood and mitigation measures devised and applied to contain it.”

Rayan said there were no statistics to evaluate the risk of CDV on the Malayan tiger, adding that smaller, isolated tiger populations in fragmented forest blocks would have a higher risk of population reduction if the disease was prevalent.

“It is critical to note that while it is important to assess the presence and the impact of CDV in the country, it should not derail our focus from the tigers’ main threats, which is poaching and habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation as well as prey loss.”

He listed out several concerns when dealing with a disease threat.

“They include, which animal is the host? How is it being transmitted? Are there other species that are affected and is there a reservoir that needs to be treated or contained?”

He stressed the need to have more targeted studies to collect baseline data on CDV cases in wild carnivores, but said conducting such studies was just one type of short-term measure.

“Ideally, you will want to devise a disease surveillance and management strategy that not only looks at managing an outbreak, but also minimises future risks.”

Rayan said WWF, other non-governmental organisations and locals could play a role in alerting the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) to potential CDV outbreaks so that the disease can be investigated and contained immediately.

“Local universities and the Veterinary Services Department can help Perhilitan carry out further studies in understanding the prevalence of the disease.”

On potential CDV hotspots, Rayan said it was tough to pinpoint such areas.

“As long as there is the presence of domesticated animals or human-induced conditions, that could be a potential source for this disease.

“It is, therefore, crucial to assess CDV threats at the human-domesticated animals-wildlife interface and to establish management strategies to reduce the risks of outbreak.”

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