Welgevonden adds to the disease management pool of knowledge

Between October 2015 and February 2016 Welgevonden Game Reserve (WGR) experienced an outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), as a consequence of the disease the lion population declined by 93%, leaving a lone surviving lioness who still roams the Reserve today.

Photo by Matthew Thorp

If this is a Canine disease, then why and how did it have such a devastating outcome on our big cats you may ask? Well, CDV affects a diverse range of wildlife and has even been known to cause disease outbreaks in marine mammals. In fact, during this outbreak on WGR, CDV was confirmed in Brown Hyaena’s for the first time, adding to the list of species known to succumb to the disease.

Managing disease outbreaks in confined reserves is a complicated affair. One reason for this is that movement is restricted which can make large predators vulnerable to transferable diseases. Secondly, any disease that affects such an array of species is likely to have a range of clinical manifestations, which prolongs the diagnosis of the disease, sometimes until it’s too late. This makes knowing how each species responds, and what management practices to implement vital.

This is exactly what the management team at Welgevonden aimed to achieve, publishing their observations and findings recently in the African Journal of Wildlife Research. The authors meticulously present the first documented case of a CDV outbreak in a managed wild lion population, which highlights the need for further research to refine CDV diagnosis in lions and the implementation of vaccination protocol for translocated lions across southern Africa. This research article will provide a useful tool for other reserves who may find themselves dealing with similar unsavoury outbreaks and is therefore important for the conservation of lion and possibly other predator species. Well done to the authors, just another way Welgevonden shows its colours as the “best managed reserve in the world”.

Welgevonden is currently home to two happy and healthy lion prides formed from lions introduced after the CDV outbreak.

The published article has a 24-month delayed open access but is available to anyone who wishes to purchase it (click here)

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