Vaccinating Siberian tigers against canine distemper virus

A research study by the scientists of Cornell Wildlife Health Center, in association with others e.g. Dr. Sarah Cleaveland of the University of Glasgow, have concluded that even a low rate of vaccination at two Siberian tigers per year within a small population can reduce the tigers’ risk of extinction significantly “at a cost of only US$30,000 per year or less if vaccines are given opportunistically when tigers are captured for routine radio collaring studies”.

Amur tiger
Amur tiger. Photo: Wildlife Conservation Society


Canine distemper virus (CDV) causes a serious illness in dogs but it is also a viral disease that affects a wide variety of mammals including coyotes, foxes, wolves, ferrets and big cats such as the tiger, and indeed a variety of other species.

Vaccination of tigers

The researchers decided that the only practical strategy to protect Amur tigers in the Russian Far East was to vaccinate them during standard collaring processes (for example) rather than trying to vaccinate dogs and other species such as martens, badgers and raccoon dogs as it was decided to be impractical as there are no oral vaccines that could be distributed to these animals through baited food.

It seems that the researchers were forced into deciding to vaccinate tigers albeit at a minimal level which they decided was sufficient to provide enough protection to ensure the survival of the species. The researchers concluded that tigers vaccinated in captivity were able to neutralise the strain of CDV that they had detected in the wild. Through a computer model they decided that a low rate of vaccination at two tigers per year could reduce the risk of extinction of this rare species of tiger all of which are living in the Far East of Russia to the northeast and southwest of Vladivostok and the northeast of China. The map below, which I made years ago, may help in showing you where this tiger lives.

Map showing where Amur (Siberian) tiger lives

Status of the Siberian tiger in the wild

In 2002, Fiona Sunquist writing in Wild Cats of the World said that this subspecies of tiger was in jeopardy. In the early 1940s the population was estimated to be 30 individuals. The authorities banned hunting of the Amur tiger in 1952. Numbers steadily increased. In 1971 he tiger census found that there were approximately 130 Siberian tigers left in the Russian Far East. By 1985 the numbers had increased to an estimated 430. In 1996 a fresh estimate concluded that there were between 350 and 450 Siberian tigers remaining in the wild.

It is said that the Siberian tiger is also distributed in north-eastern China where there is a small population. The source of the material for the above article states that there are fewer than 550 Siberian tigers at the date of this post. They do not tell me where that figure comes from. The specialist in this area (IUCN Red List) are asleep again. They say that on the basis of a 2005 census there are an estimated 360 Siberian tigers in the wild and they re-quote that figure in 2011. So the most recent data we have from the specialists is from 2011 based on 2005 numbers. Russia has made a concerted effort to protect this most precious of animals in their country and therefore I would hope and expect the numbers to be stable.

The Siberian Tiger is the world’s largest cat. The smallest cat in the world is the rusty-spotted cat another wild cat.

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Indignation at pet owning South Korean girl band after handling baby panda

Blackpink members handle panda cub
Blackpink members handle panda cub. Montage: Social media.


Blackpink is a South Korean girl band formed by YG Entertainment consisting of members Jisoo, Jenniw, Rosé and Lisa. Everland in South Korea as a theme park and vacation resort located in Yongin, Gyeonggi-do. It opened in April 1976. At the resort they have a three-month-old baby panda, Fu Bao, who was born at the resort. All giant pandas are the property of China which rents them to zoos around the world. So we have to conclude that Fu Bao belongs to the Chinese government.

Handling the panda

The girls of Blackpink apparently own dogs and cats or at least some of them do (see below Lily who lives with Lisa). They were filmed cuddling Fu Bao at the resort. It was quite possibly a promotional video of some sort.


The handling of the panda cub has prompted intense criticism on social media in China which is a big market for K-pop (Korean pop). The China Wildlife Conservation Association has written to the Everland Resort reminding it of rules which apparently specify that only keepers or vets can handle pandas, Therefore the girls of this band were in alleged breach of the agreement.

Blackpink: Rosé, Jennie, Lisa, and Jisoo.
Blackpink: Rosé, Jennie, Lisa, and Jisoo. Photo: Wikipedia under CC.

Cats and dogs

There was particular indignation because the four women often published photographs of themselves online with their dogs and cats which, it is said (as part of the criticism) carry germs which are dangerous to pandas. They appear to have referred to the death of four giant pandas in 2015 after contracting the canine distemper virus at a breeding centre in Sichuan.

Lily lives with Lisa
Lily lives with Lisa. Photo:

On the Chinese social media website, Weibo, the hashtag “Blackpink touched panda cub wrongly” has been viewed millions of times and appeared in 55,000 posts. YG entertainment have disputed that there was a risk to the panda in saying:

All Blackpink members wore sanitary gloves, masks and protective clothing when they were in contact with the baby panda and they sanitised their hands and shoes during every transition between takes. Nevertheless in respect of international cooperation practice and recommendations from panda experts that non-professionals having close contact with the baby panda can cause misunderstandings, we decided to withhold the release of the video.

The video clip showing the girl band members handling the panda has been removed from YouTube.

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