• A Correction to this article was published on 09 May 1996
  • An Erratum to this article was published on 08 April 2010


CANINE distemper virus (CDV) is thought to have caused several fatal epidemics in canids within the Serengeti–Mara ecosystem of East Africa, affecting silver-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas) and bat-eared foxes (Otocyon megalotis) in 1978 (ref. 1), and African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in 1991 (refs 2, 3). The large, closely monitored Serengeti lion population4,5 was not affected in these epidemics. However, an epidemic caused by a morbillivirus closely related to CDV emerged abruptly in the lion population of the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, in early 1994, resulting in fatal neurological disease characterized by grand mal seizures and myoclonus; the lions that died had encephalitis and pneumonia. Here we report the identification of CDV from these lions, and the close phylogenetic relationship between CDV isolates from lions and domestic dogs. By August 1994, 85% of the Serengeti lion population had anti-CDV antibodies, and the epidemic spread north to lions in the Maasai Mara National reserve, Kenya, and uncounted hyaenas, bat-eared foxes, and leopards were also affected.

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  1. Serengeti Wildlife Research Institute, Tanzania National Parks, Arusha, Tanzania

    • Melody E. Roelke-Parker
    • , Craig Packer
    •  & Sarah Cleaveland
  2. Messerli Foundation, Zurich, Switzerland

    • Melody E. Roelke-Parker
  3. Department of Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, 37901, USA

    • Linda Munson
  4. Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St Paul, Minnesota, 55108, USA

    • Craig Packer
  5. Kenya Wildlife Service, Nairobi, Kenya

    • Richard Kock
  6. Institute of Zoology, London, NW14RY, UK

    • Sarah Cleaveland
  7. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, WC1E 7HT, UK

    • Sarah Cleaveland
  8. Laboratory of Viral Carcinogenesis, National Cancer Institute, Frederick, Maryland, 21702, USA

    • Margaret Carpenter
    •  & Stephen J. O'Brien
  9. Institute of Veterinary Pathology, University of Zurich, 8057, Zurich, Switzerland

    • Andreas Pospischil
  10. Department of Veterinary Internal Medicine, University of Zurich, 8057, Zurich, Switzerland

    • Regina Hofmann-Lehmann
    •  & Hans Lutz
  11. Department of Veterinary Pathology, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania

    • George L. M. Mwamengele
    •  & M. N. Mgasa
  12. Veterinary Investigation Center, Arusha, Tanzania

    • G. A. Machange
  13. Department of Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 14853, USA

    • Brian A. Summers
  14. James Baker Institute of Animal Health, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 14853, USA

    • Max J. G. Appel


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