Indian wildlife experts will be assisted by their counterparts from Russia in a study to check the health of big cats in the tiger reserves across the country.
A team of researchers from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) will kick-start the study soon with an aim to protect the beleaguered tiger population in the country from zoonotic diseases like Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), which has wiped out over 30 lions in the Gir Forest in Gujarat
Following the Lions’ death, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), meanwhile, also issued an alert to all reserves to keep a close watch for symptoms of the CDV.
“Wildlife experts from Russia are being roped in for our study as the country is facing similar challenges as India on conservation front. Today, fewer than 500 Siberian tigers-- the largest of the tiger subspecies - survive. The Russians have experience in protecting and researching the Amur tiger, as well as outline a long-term, comprehensive system of conservation measures,” said a senior official from the NTCA, the top tiger conservation body of the government in the country.
He said that an agreement will soon be signed between Dehradun-based WII and A N Severtsov Institute of Ecology in Evolution Academy of Sciences, one of the leading biological Institutes of Russia. The Institute is a scientific research centre on ecology, biological diversity, ethology, evolutionary morphology and nature conservation.
One of the study’s objectives will be to formulate a strategy for the protection of the tigers from the fatal diseases, if any, the official said noting that emerging infectious diseases are a concern not only to humans but also to the conservation and welfare of wildlife species.
As per the proposed study, the researchers will test every tiger carcass they finds for the virus or any other threatening disease. Efforts will also be taken to vaccinate dogs around the periphery of the reserves against canine distemper.
According to a 2014 study from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), CDV has the potential to be a significant driver in pushing the tigers towards extinction. The authors evaluated these impacts on the Amur tiger population in Russia’s Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Zapovednik (SABZ), where tiger numbers declined from 38 individuals to 9 in the years 2007 to 2012. In 2009 and 2010, six adult tigers died or disappeared from the reserve, and CDV was confirmed in two dead tigers leading scientists to believe that CDV likely played a role in the overall decline of the population.