Theresia Sufa, The Jakarta Post, Bogor | Jakarta | Mon, November 04 2013, 10:00 AM
To ensure Sumatran tigers are not being infected with the deadly canine distemper virus (CDV) that has already afflicted Siberian tigers in Russia, veterinarians at the Taman Safari Indonesia (TSI) zoo in Bogor, West Java, are planning to begin monitoring the health of tigers living in the Sumatran jungles.
Head of the TSI’s veterinary team Retno Sudarwati said that TSI veterinarians were now gathering data to perform a thorough medical examination of Sumatran tigers.
“We cannot yet determine when we will start the monitoring program, but it will begin as soon as everything is ready,” she said.
Retno added that the monitoring was extremely important because scientists had recently discovered that Siberian tigers in Russia were facing extinction not because of illegal poaching but from CDV infection.
She explained that the virus, which was first detected in dogs, could cause fatal pneumonia and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Tigers can contract the virus when they eat infected dogs or cats.
“We haven’t found any CDV-infected tigers in Indonesia, but it is possible that we will, especially if we don’t take action,” she said.
Retno added that there was already cause for concern, as some Indonesian tigers had displayed behavioral abnormalities similar to those displayed by CDV-infected Siberian tigers.
For example, instead of being alert and ferocious, the infected Russian cats are said to be fearful, docile and disoriented in their behavior. Retno said that she had found the same symptoms in some Sumatran tigers.
Some tigers in Bengkulu, for example, were not afraid of humans and sometimes meandered into housing complexes. In Jambi, some tigers wandered onto roads near people’s residences, she said.
Retno also said that tigers in Indonesia could be at risk because they often consumed dogs and cats.
A leopard rescued by the TSI veterinary team on Oct. 12 in a forest close to a housing complex in Sukabumi, West Java, had previously eaten local residents’ dogs and cattle, she said.
“Just like a time-bomb, this virus could spread and become an epidemic. Of course, we don’t want this to happen in Indonesia because it may cause our Sumatran tigers to go extinct,” Retno said.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) lists Sumatran tigers as a critically endangered species. The organization estimates that there are only around 400 Sumatran tigers living in the wild.