World’s most endangered cat infected with a fatal canine disease

This new revelation could spell disaster for the last few remaining Amur leopards.

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A female Amur leopard at a safari park in Russia © Yuri Smityuk / TASS / Getty 

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The Amur leopard is recognised as one of the rarest creatures on the planet. As of 2015, there was estimated to be no more than 60 individuals left in the wild.

New challenges could lie in the not-too-distant future, as a female two-year-old Amur leopard has been found infected with the deadly pathogen, Canine Distemper Virus (CDV).

“The leopard was extremely sick when she was brought in, and had severe neurological disease,” says Ekaterina Blidchenko, veterinarian with the Land of the Leopard National Park.

“Despite hand-feeding and veterinary attention, her condition worsened, and a decision was made to euthanize her for humane reasons.”

Researchers discovered her by a roadside, seemingly indifferent to her surroundings, which is unusual for the elusive Amur leopard.

Following immediate concern for her welfare, she was tranquilised and transported to a nearby lab, where testing revealed the presence of CDV in her bloodstream.

CDV typically infects domestic dogs, but can be transmitted to a variety of carnivore species, including big cats. This happens when domestic dogs and wild carnivores are pushed into close proximity with one another.

In 1994, a CDV outbreak wiped out more than 1,000 lions in the Serengeti. Researchers argue that for a social carnivore, like a lion, the disease is much more likely to spread, as they live in close contact with one another.

For a solitary animal like an Amur leopard, the spreading of the virus is much less likely. However, given the current status of this subspecies it does pose a worrying concern.

Read the paper in Journal of Wildlife Diseases.

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Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine