A virulent canine distemper virus has killed at least four tigers and several other animals across northern and eastern India, Rajesh Gopal of India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority has said.
 
A report by Associated Press said conservationists were alarmed that many tigers in India had recently tested positive for the deadly virus that commonly affected dogs.
 
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"These are very disturbing finds," according to Dr AK Sharma, head scientist at the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, which performed the canine distemper lab tests.
 
"The cases were quite distant from each other, and the latest was an area where there are no dogs. So it appears the virus is spreading."
 
On January 10 this year two lion cubs at a zoo in Patna in Bihar state were reported to have tested positive. A red panda in the northeast state of Manipur, a tiger in West Bengal, a zoo lion in Darjeeling and a wild tiger at a forest reserve in Uttar Pradesh also tested positive.
 
India will now test every tiger carcass it finds for the virus, according to Gopal. 

Authorities are also considering a massive campaign to vaccinate dogs against canine distemper, atleast those found close to wildlife sanctuaries.
 
The deadly canine virus has no known cure.  While dogs can recover from the disease, other animals especially big cats including tigers, lions and leopards suffer fever, seizure and delirium before they die, the report said.
 
Shrinking natural habitats
 
Rapid population growth and shrinking of forest zones are bringing humans and dogs into closer contact with wildlife that contribute to the rapid spread of the canine disease, the report said.
 
Experts have said that instead of trying to hunt down the affected dogs, the country should focus on other proven threats like poaching, prey loss to hunting and human encroachment into forests.
 
Early on in 2013 India had launched a census to map the dwindling numbers of tigers, according to The Hindu newspaper.
 
The census of 2010-11 saw a rise in tiger population from 1411 to 1706 but the tigers were still under threat from poaching and sharp decline in their habitat area.
 
The report said that tiger habitat had gone down from 93687 to 81881 sq km (36,176 to 31614 sq miles) in the four years the census was conducted.   

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies