HARBIN, May 27 (Xinhua) -- A virus commonly found in dogs may become the biggest threat to the already beleaguered Siberian tiger population, Sino-Russian research has found.
Genetic studies have found the canine distemper virus strain is highly contagious to Siberian tigers, said Wang Xiaolong, professor at the Northeast Forestry University, at a seminar in Harbin, capital of China's Heilongjiang Province, on Tuesday.
The find resulted from a program initiated by China and Russia last year on cross-boundary protection of Siberian tigers and Amur leopards.
Wang said the disease has plagued pet dogs, farmed fur animals and wild canines in northeast China and can pass to the big cats that prey on such animals. Canine distemper is deadly to the tigers and can cause decline in their population.
According to the professor, disease control is now an urgent task in the tiger's habitats, where dogs are popular pets but many of them are not properly vaccinated.
Fewer than 500 Siberian tigers remain in the wild, mainly living in eastern Russia, northeast China, and northern parts of the Korean Peninsula. China puts its own number of wild Siberian tigers between 18 and 22.
A common and not necessarily deadly disease among domestic dogs, canine distemper can however wreak havoc among wild animals like ferrets, lions and tigers. It has reportedly threatened the tiger population in India.