Some of the world's rarest big cat species are facing a potentially deadly threat from a virus carried by domestic dogs, a wildlife expert has warned. John Lewis, director of Wildlife Vets International, said there was evidence that Indonesian tigers were at risk.
Canine distemper virus has evolved in recent decades from infecting only dogs to affecting other animal groups. Dr Lewis plans to work with Indonesian vets to develop a strategy to protect the nation's tigers from the virus.
A close relative of measles, Canine distemper virus (CDV) was first described at the beginning of the 20th Century and has been cited as contributing to the demise of the thylacine (commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger as a result of the black stripes on its back).
"If you wind the clock back about 30 or 40 years, it was a dog disease - it was a canine virus and only affected dogs," Dr Lewis explained.
"But in the intervening years, the virus has evolved and has changed its pattern of animals it can infect to include marine mammals (such as seals) and big cats."