Wildlife Health

Dr. Dee McAloose, Head of Pathology at WCS's
Zoological Health 
Program in New York,
examines a slide with Russian vets
during a 2011 training.

Photo by Julie Larsen Maher, WCS. 

The Problem

Since 2002, there have been six known cases of mortality among wild Amur tigers where infectious disease has been suspected; four of these animals died in a short period in 2009-2010. Affected tigers showed signs of altered behavior and significant weight loss. Based on the clinical signs, there is an increasing concern that an infectious disease, such as rabies or canine distemper, may be the cause. Additionally, infectious diseases could be more widespread than is currently recognized, and could play a role in the survival or extinction of Amur tigers and leopards. 

Currently, frustratingly little is known about the status of infectious diseases in endangered felid populations and coexisting wildlife in the Russian Far East. In addition to canine distemper, there are a large number of other pathogens that could affect tigers and leopards, including rabies virus, feline retroviruses, and a host of other infectious agents. This lack of knowledge is of great concern, as declining populations become increasingly vulnerable to stochastic events such as disease outbreaks.

WCS Response

A primary goal of our program is to aid in developing a cadre of Russians dedicated to wildlife conservation. This includes not only “traditional” wildlife biologists and conservationists, but also veterinarians dedicated to wildlife health issues.

Improving the capacity of Russian experts in the fields of clinical diagnostics, clinical pathology, and anatomic pathology will allow them to competently and effectively assess the health of Amur tigers, Far Eastern Leopards,and other local wildlife species.

To this end,WCS Russia has been collaborating closely with the Veterinary program at the Primorskaya State Academy of Agriculture(PSAA) in Ussuriisk for nearly a decade. We have not only provided regular training workshops, but also provided consistent consultations on a variety of wildlife health issues. Specialists from the WCS Global Health Program and the Moscow Zoo have also traveled to the Russian Far East several times as part of these training workshops. Most recently, WCS Russia was a driving force in a 2011 international conference on wildlife disease, and is currently editing a compilation of conference proceedings.