"The big threats facing tigers are habitat loss and degradation and poaching, but I think the third big threat now is likely to be disease, particularly one like CDV," John Lewis, director of Wildlife Vets International, told the BBC.
In September, Lewis will work with a team of Indonesian veterinarians to develop a system to monitor for CDV and find a laboratory where samples can be analyzed.
"Once we have got that nailed down then we start work and try to design some sort of mitigation strategy, and that won't be easy," said Lewis.
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Canine distemper virus kills most animals it infects. A paper in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine noted that disease is second only to rabies in mortality rate and has been identified in all families of land carnivores: Canidae, Felidae, Hyaenidae, Mustelidae, Procyonidae, Ursidae, and Viverridae.
A study in the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation documented CDV infections that killed 17 lions, tigers and leopards in zoos. Vets believed the cats had contracted the disease after eating infected racoons. A similar study in Clinical and Vaccine Immunology determined that CDV had killed at least 19 lions and tigers in Switzerland over the past few decades.