Book ID 448
Spencer Jones, Jonathan What killed the Serengeti Lions, 1996
Extract Author: Jonathan Spencer Jones
Extract Date: 1996 March
Africa: Environment & Wildlife, May/June 1996, Vol 4, No 3. Page 14,
Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) is thought to have caused fatal epidemics among silver-backed jackals and bat-eared foxes in the Serengeti-Mara system in 1978 and among African Wild Dogs in 1991. The same disease has now been implicated in the deaths of lions in the area in 1994, according to Melody Roelke-Parker (of the Serengeti Wildlife Research Institute in Arusha, Tanzania) and colleagues (Nature, 379, p. 441).
The first signs occurred in early 1994, when six lions in the Serengeti National Park were observed with grand mal seizures, while three developed facial and forelimb twitches and others were noted to be disoriented, depressed and lacking motor co-ordination. Subsequently, a larger than usual number of lion carcasses were found.
In order to investigate the epidemic, samples were collected from a number of dead lions, as well as a number of live lions - both diseased and apparently healthy. When analysed, the samples showed the presence of CDV.
The most probable source of the virus is thought to have been the domestic dog, of which there are about 30,000 from the local villages adjoining the Park. The most probable route of transmission is believed to be by spotted hyaenas, which range among human dwellings and travel long distances in the Park and gather in large numbers at kill sites, where the environment is ideal for CDV amplification and transmission.
In all, that epidemic, which also spread north into the Masa Mara National Reserve, is thought to have reduced the lion population in the Serengeti-Mara system from around 3,000 animals to an estimated 2,000. In addition it is thought to have affected countless hyaenas, bat-eared foxes and leopards.
As a sequel to this work, Project Life Lion, working with the Tanzania Veterinary Service, has launched a dog vaccination campaign covering both distemper and rabies