A disease that commonly effects domesticated dogs has been added to the list of threats that have critically endangered Amur leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis). So far, the list already includes illegal wildlife trade, habitat loss, fragmentation, and climate change.
The recent discovery of a two-yearold Amur leopard suffering from canine distemper virus (CDV) has led to this realisation. Spotted on a roadside in Eastern Russia, the female leopard was said to show a “lack of fear towards humans” and a general detachment from her surroundings. The leopard in question was soon immobilized and transported to a local care facility, by conservationists. As well as refusing food and water, the leopard later developed “uncoordinated movements” and “severe hind limb contraction” that caregivers were unable to treat with medication.
The severity of the disease led to further decline and, eventually, the leopard had to be euthanised.
It is rare for cats to contract CDV, but it has previously been found that close contact with dogs can result in the disease’s occurrence in felines. Once the disease is acquired, it can be easily spread between social cats. Luckily, Amur leopards tend to be relatively solitary animals.
However, the threat remains very real for this dwindling species. As few as 60 leopards remain in the wild, according to a paper published in The Journal of Wildlife Diseases; and as the population dwindles further, the effect of external shock on the species worsens, with potentially fatal consequences.
Active conservation efforts are being carried out by organisations such as WWF, which aims to work with local governments to ensure the protection and expansion of the Amur leopard population.
As apex predators in their natural habitats, conservation work like this will be crucial to the maintenance of the natural ecosystem of the environment.